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By DAVID J. RALIS; Times Leader Staff Writer

Friday, January 30, 1998     Page: 1A

WILKES-BARRE- In a move that ended months of contention, arena board members voted 7-3 Thursday to put a Wisconsin firm in charge of building the arena in Wilkes-Barre Township.
    Oscar J. Boldt Construction Co. guaranteed the building will cost $34.7 million, according to its contract. As construction manager, its fee will be $895,000.
    However, a consultant told the Luzerne County Convention Center Authority that an incentive in the contract says Boldt, of Waukesha, Wis., could be paid up to an extra $400,000 if contractors build the arena at a lower cost.
    The contract says Boldt gets to keep half of the first $800,000 in construction savings.
    A $1 million "contingency fund" was built into the arena's $34.7 million price to help Boldt pay for unplanned expenses during construction, according to Robert Dunn, a partner in Hammes Co., the authority's project manager.
    The contingency money is considered savings if it isn't spent, Dunn said.
    In addition to the carrot, the contract contains a sizable stick in case the arena is not "substantially complete" by Aug. 31, 1999- a $1,000 per day penalty that cannot surpass $400,000.
    The building must be ready two months after that so the American Hockey League's Penguins can play on its hockey rink.
    Authority member Tony Lupas voted against hiring Boldt, saying he simply did not have enough time to study the contract. Board members Fran Bartlomowicz and John George joined him.
    Authority members Dan Distasio, Tom Torbik, Stephen Barrouk, Monsignor Andrew McGowan, Tom Melone, Gary Lamont and Chairman Kevin Blaum voted in favor of the contract. Vice Chairman Pat Judge was absent.
    Lupas, Bartolomowicz and George previously favored hiring Apollo Group Inc., Wilkes-Barre, and Gilbane construction, Philadelphia, to serve together as the construction manager. They tried last month to open negotiations with those companies, only to watch the motion die after a tie vote.
    "I'm not trying to be an obstructionist," Lupas told the board Thursday, adding he only received a copy of the 36-page contract with Boldt on Wednesday.
    Blaum, a Democratic state representative from Wilkes-Barre, said Dunn, of Hammes, didn't finish haggling with Boldt and its only competitor, Turner Construction Co. of Pittsburgh, until this week.
    Copies of both proposals were not made public Thursday. Dunn said Turner's construction quote would have cost the authority about $2 million more, so Hammes recommended the authority hire Boldt.
    Dunn said Turner first quoted the arena's cost at $41 million and Boldt wanted $38.6 million, but both offers were inflated because Hammes had initially requested a fancier building in hopes of getting more for less.
    "If you're going to build a $32 million building, it's better to design a $35 million one and let competition take care of it for you," he said.
    In the end, Dunn said the two firms agreed to lower the cost in part by using gravel on the main parking lot instead of asphalt, eliminating elaborate flooring in favor of simple concrete, and having an advertiser pay for a scoreboard.
    George asked to see a list showing the savings of each item that was cut, but Dunn said he didn't have one.
    In other business:
    The board unanimously hired ARAMARK to serve as the arena's concessionaire. The company will pay the authority $2.2 million for exclusive rights to sell food, beverages and novelties, plus a percentage of the profits.
    Two other companies, Service America and Fine Host, each offered $2 million. Service America threatened to withdraw from the competition after learning that a company partly owned by ARAMARK had a hand in evaluating the proposals.
    However, Tom Whitworth, a senior vice president for Legg Mason, the authority's financial consultant, said Service America never formally withdrew its offer.
    The board voted to accept an agreement to buy the 50.8-acre arena site, plus a 20-acre site for a state highway exit, from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Industrial Fund for $10.
    Barrouk abstained because he presides over the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, the fund's parent organization.
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