Developers of a mixed-use entertainment complex and the new Rangers stadium always promised that minority-owned businesses would make up at least 25 percent of the companies involved in their construction.
The Rangers are just getting started in their bid process for their new $1 billion, retractable-roof home. But construction has already started on the $250 million Texas Live! development and thus far, the participation rate of minority-owned firms sits at 47 percent.
Good news, right?
Well, yes. But that doesn’t mean the road to get there has been easy or that enough has been done, a representative of the Arlington NAACP said.
“The journey took a lot of convincing,” said Alisa Simmons, president of the Arlington chapter of the NAACP. “You say minority inclusion will be a goal, it is important to you and that local participation is important to you, but when we presented these firms, they were hesitant.
“ ‘We’ll put them in the pile and vet them,’ they said,” said Simmons, referring to The Cordish Cos., the Baltimore-based firm that is building Texas Live!.
Representatives from Cordish declined to comment on the substance of Simmons’ statement, but defended the company’s record on minority involvement in a statement.
“The Cordish Companies has successfully helped foster similar groundbreaking initiatives in the past, including Maryland Live! Casino which, to the best of their knowledge, is the first major casino in the United States to include an MWBE prime general contractor,” said Cari Furman, communications manager for Cordish, referring to a $500 million development in Hanover, Md.
Reginald Cleveland, Arlington’s Minority and Women Business Enterprises coordinator, also praised Cordish.
“From the beginning, the Rangers and The Cordish Companies made it very clear that minority participation and inclusion was vitally important to them, and to the success of the project,” he said.
Several months after ground was broken on Texas Live!, 15 of the 21 companies contracted to work on the project are minority-owned, accounting for a big chunk of the 47 percent participation rate.
‘Eye of the needle’
In all, $7.5 million of a total $16 million in contracts have been awarded to either black-, Hispanic-, women- or Asian-American-owned companies, Furman said.
Included in the partnership is Con-Real, an Arlington-based, black-owned construction and real estate firm, which was selected as the joint venture partner for Manhattan Construction Group.
Manhattan, based in Oklahoma with an office in Dallas, is handling construction of both Texas Live! and the Rangers’ new stadium.
Gerald Alley, president and CEO of Con-Real, acknowledged it took time to get minority contractors on board but this project, which is a public-private partnership, presented a different challenge than most.
“In the early discussions, you’re still talking about what shape the development is going to take and how big it’s going to be,” Alley said. “In this case, we knew there was going to be a hotel, but we didn’t know the size and scope of it, what kind of hotel it would be or what company it would be, so that took a little time.”
Simmons and other black business officials said most minority construction and development agreements are forged as a result of Minority and Women Business Enterprise partnerships with local governments — and usually not as pure deals between private businesses and companies.
Without those MWBE initiatives in place, which involve taxpayer dollars in some fashion, “we wouldn’t get through the eye of the needle,” said John Proctor, chairman of the Regional Black Contractors Association of North Texas.
“It’s abysmal, the amount of work we would get without those MWBE agreements,” Proctor said.
Simmons agreed that it’s difficult for minority contractors to get a breakthrough.
“Construction is a good-old-boys network,” she said. “It’s almost like a closed society where everybody knows everybody and it’s hard to break into.”
Mayor in their corner
Simmons ultimately praised Cordish’s efforts in exceeding minority-contracting goals to this point, calling it a team effort and a victory.
“I tip my hat to Cordish. They came to the table and worked it out,” she said.
Simmons also lauded the efforts of Mayor Jeff Williams to push minority participation.
“He was on our side the whole time,” she said. “He said, ‘It’s the right thing to do. Let’s just get this done.’ ”
Williams, who was elected to a second term in May, acknowledged the issue’s importance.
“It was a priority for myself and our City Council to have significant minority involvement,” he said. “We had experienced and willing partners in Cordish and the Rangers, and Con-Real is an extremely qualified contractor.”
Minority-owned companies that have signed contracts in addition to Con-Real include the Emmitt Smith-owned EJ Smith Construction, Solid Lines, DJ Promotions and Marketing, T. Smith Inspection and Testing, LeVis Consulting Group, Brenda Price Trucking, LB Transportation, Pate Jones Paving, W.O.E. Construction, Guido Trucking, Ram Tool and 2M Business Products.
‘A commercial, useful function’
Few minority-owned companies were willing to comment about their participation, citing clauses in their contracts with Cordish that require media inquiries to go through the developer.
Arthur Etherly, chief operating officer of Fort Worth-based T. Smith Inspection and Testing, confirmed that his company is providing the testing of construction materials at Texas Live!.
“It’s been a very good experience,” Etherly said. “There’s just been total involvement from the beginning.”
Texas Live! and the stadium have brought minority-owned firms on board to oversee compliance with the bidding process.
Demetria Bivens, founder of dlb Consultants, a black-owned company that is coordinating MWBE outreach with Texas Live!, praised The Cordish Companies for involving minority-owned firms.
“They have a lot of general minority contractors heavily involved in this,” she said. “Manhattan is very serious about meeting their minority contracting goals.”
These are serious jobs, too, Bivens said, not just handouts given to minority firms while white-owned companies do the heavy lifting.
“These are physical, concrete functions. They are providing the materials and doing the work,” she said. “These are not pass-through jobs. They have a commercial, useful function.”
Rangers at bat
Pre-bidding meetings have started for the Rangers stadium. No contracts have been awarded yet, but officials expect minority contractor results similar to those at Texas Live!
Jollyn Mwisongo, president and CEO of Arlington-based ACARI Management Group, also a black-owned business, is overseeing minority compliance for the stadium development.
“Working with the Rangers has been a rewarding experience,” she said. “It’s great to work with a client that fosters collaboration, diversity and inclusion.”
Rob Matwick, the Rangers’ executive vice president of business operations, said the team is carefully monitoring minority compliance standards.
“Our goal is a 25 percent participation rate, and we would certainly like to exceed that,” Matwick said. “We think that, as participation in the construction process goes on, that we can exceed that number.”