The general contractor overseeing the Miller & Rhoads hotel project downtown has fired minority contractor Al Bowers Jr., who's blaming Mayor L. Douglas Wilder for his dismissal.
It's the latest ugly twist to the much-anticipated Miller & Rhoads hotel, which was originally slated to open in time for Queen Elizabeth II's visit earlier this month. The hotel is now scheduled to open November 2008.
But not before rustling up one angry Bowers, who's fought publicly with Mayor Wilder and recently won a lawsuit against the city for unpaid contract work in the Randolph West subdivision near Virginia Commonwealth University.
"Apparently, someone from the administrative office of the city of Richmond instructed HRI not to hire Al Bowers," Bowers says of the project's developer, New Orleans-based HRI Properties Inc. "If I find that this administration tried to hurt my business and hurt my employees, if I find that an elected official has been in any way involved in economic harm to my company, I will fight with every breath I've got."
Bowers says he had a contract with Whiting-Turner to supply minority contractors to the hotel construction project.
Dan Niccolucci, vice president and manager of Whiting-Turner's Richmond office, told Style in July that Bowers' firm, BFE Consulting, had a "written agreement" to serve as the project's minority business administrator to "assist in pre-qualifying subs and vendors on the project, in addition to providing monthly reports on their progress."
But that work wasn't scheduled to begin until earlier this year. A few weeks ago, Bowers says, the work began without his involvement. The name of his company, originally painted on the side of the building, has since been removed.
Niccolucci didn't return Style's call seeking comment. Linwood Norman, the city's press secretary, also didn't respond to a request for comment by press time.
King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP, is also angry that Bowers got the boot and pledges to seek justice in the matter.
Khalfani says Whiting-Turner has a good track record of working with minority contractors. He says he's been informed that someone within the city administration contacted Whiting-Turner and requested Bowers be removed from the project.
"That's just corrupt," Khalfani says. "Here you've got somebody in the city that's being targeted. If that's true, there are going to be some serious repercussions."
Ron Silverman, senior vice president of HRI and point person for the Miller & Rhoads project, says he's unaware of Bowers and his removal from the project. "I don't know anything about Mr. Bowers," he says. S