With floor plans and construction proposals in hand, five contractors toured Fort Gordon’s Post Exchange this week in hopes of winning the shopping complex’s $33 million expansion project, officials said Thursday.
The competition started Wednesday and will heat up over the next 30 days as the Army & Air Force Exchange Service starts receiving offers and determines which bid best matches the vision Fort Gordon has for its larger and more modern Post Exchange, General Manager Stefan Marks said.
He said the Fort Gordon Exchange could not release the names of the five contractors at this time. He said the pool includes two applicants from Michigan and one each from South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.
“All the applicants have extreme credibility,” Marks said. “They have proven through previous projects, some of which include strip malls and Navy exchanges, that they have the expertise and the resources available to build large complexes similar in design to our new facility.”
When completed in fall 2015, Marks said, the new exchange “will have an impact on all trades.” It will nearly double in size from 98,000 to 177,000 square feet.
In November, builders are expected to begin construction, blasting out walls along the northern and western boundaries of the old shopping center, which was built in 1995.
The interior will be rearranged for an interconnected grid of cafés, shops and merchandise displays.
The food court will be moved from the east to the west side and will have two new eating choices.
The shopping area will be divided into three sections – entertainment, casual living and home wares – and aisles and hallways will be widened for the carts of vendors, who will be contracted on a limited basis.
The trading post’s auxiliary location will be combined with the main exchange on Third Avenue and almost double the size of its stockroom.
“We’re talking about a whole new shopping experience,” Marks said.
Nationwide, the U.S. Army and Air Force Exchange Service is a $10 billion industry that’s larger than Starbucks, Office Depot and Dillard’s.
The local exchange netted more than $8 million in earnings in 2012, thanks to an exemption from sales tax and an average merchandise price that is 25 percent less than department stores off Fort Gordon, receipts show.
The Fort Gordon Post Exchange has 22 permanent shopkeepers, six vending operations and four food providers. In addition, the exchange normally has 10 to 12 short-term cart concessions under limited contract.
The expansion project gained such notice that Marks said the Army & Air Force Exchange Service had to vet applicants through an extensive background check that looked at previous project experience, prior work accidents, insurance coverage and financial history, including any unpaid taxes to the federal government.
Marks said all approved applicants must submit all questions by Friday.
“The expectations are that the bids will come in the first week in August,” Marks said. “Then, our company has 30 days to review offers and select a contractor.”