Hearing on NYC helipad contract award cancelled amid conflict of interest concerns
New York City’s economic development arm abruptly cancelled a Friday hearing on awarding a contract for operating a downtown Manhattan helipad — after the Daily News reported that conflict of interest concerns have emerged about the aviation company in line for the lucrative deal.
The hearing on issuing the contract for the Pier 6 helipad to Saker Aviation was supposed to be held in the afternoon by the city Economic Development Corporation and the Franchise and Concession Review Committee, a panel that includes various local officials, including representatives from Mayor Adams’ office.
But hours before it was set to start, the Economic Development Corporation, which recommended last month that Saker receive the contract, posted a brief notice online that the hearing is “being held over” for a future date.
The postponement comes on the heels of The News reporting that Saker’s chairman, William Wachtel, is law partners with Morgan Missry, who serves as an Economic Development Corporation board member.
The Wachtel-Missry connection sparked concerns about a potential conflict of interest and prompted Thoroughbred Sea & Air, a rival bidder, to file a formal complaint with the city Feb. 22 calling for an investigation into whether Saker was privy to “inside information” that allowed it to gain an unfair advantage in the helipad procurement process.
In a previously unknown twist, Helo Holdings, another bidder on the Pier 6 contract, filed a similar complaint on Feb. 24 raising concerns whether the ties between Wachtel and Missry “fundamentally tainted” the procurement, according to a copy obtained by The News.
The EDC, which is made up of mayoral appointees, said Friday that the hearing’s delay had “nothing to do” with the complaints from Helo and Thoroughbred. The corporation also said it “remains steadfast there is no conflict of interest” related to the proposed Saker contract and that “no confidential information from one submission was shared with another bidder.”
The EDC would not say why the hearing was pushed back, though. It did say Mayor Adams’ Office of Contract Services, which plays a role on the Franchise and Concession Review Committee, made the call to postpone.
Spokespeople for Adams did not return requests for comment Friday afternoon. Saker CEO Sam Goldstein declined to comment.
When news of the connection between Wachtel and Missry broke last month, Wachtel said his law partner had “no involvement whatsoever” in the EDC’s decision to recommend Saker gets the contract. The EDC has said the board “as a matter of course” does not involve itself directly in the corporation’s “individual procurements.”
The Franchise and Concession Review Committee must ultimately sign off on the contract.
Saker has operated the Pier 6 helipad for over a decade, meaning the new proposed contract is effectively a renewal.
The company would stand to earn tens of millions of dollars from the new contract, which has a five-year term. The helipad near Wall Street is mostly used by wealthy tourists and business executives who work in the area.
Aside from the conflict of interest allegations swirling over the Pier 6 contract, some local politicians have questioned why the helipad should exist at all.
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and City Comptroller Brad Lander, both of whom hold votes on the Franchise and Concession Review Committee, told The News that the expiration of Saker’s current contract “presents a huge opportunity to drastically reduce the number of helicopters flying over New York City.”
“The city can find better uses for this space, including as a marine cargo facility, a hub for test flights for electrical vertical take-off and landing vehicles or use the air rights from this location to build approximately 9,000 units of housing,” they said in a joint statement. “With the postponement of this hearing, we urge the city to use this time to finally hear New Yorkers over the constant whirring of these helicopters and reconsider the award.”