Now there are cries of racism.
The hubbub started when Thomas Davis, president and chief executive of T. K. Davis Construction Inc., shot off a letter to Wallica Gaines, executive director of the Highland Park CDC, questioning why the group wasn't soliciting more minority participation in the project.
"I am perplexed as to why HPCDC would solicit services outside of the community of qualified and proven African American Construction Companies," Davis wrote. Davis said he was not interested in having his own company work on the condominiums but offered Gaines 160 hours of free consultation to help her find qualified minority contractors.
Gaines fired back with a letter stating the CDC has maintained a minority contractor participation rate of more than 60 percent on its projects, but has had problems working with some of those companies.
"I'd like to detail some of the challenges we have had over the last 12-18 months working with our contractors, particularly minority contractors," Gaines wrote. The problems she described included: "inability to deliver finished project by the due date," "refusal to correct warranty/callback items" and "not showing up on job when promised."
The statements have outraged the mayor.
"Singling out minority contractors as being those persons who comprise the negativity it was shocking to me," Wilder says. "I just couldn't believe that this would be something that the city would countenance."
Gaines couldn't be reached for comment by press time. Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, however, says the challenges Gaines details are legitimate, but adds there are good minority contractors working in Richmond. Minority-owned companies often are small and may not have the capability to be the chief contractor on a big project, says Robertson, a former head of the Highland Park CDC.
Is it difficult to find minority contractors? "Absolutely not," thunders Al Bowers III, head of construction and consulting firm Bowers Family Enterprises and a former president of Central Virginia Business & Construction Association. "You just gotta have the mind-set that you want to use our people."
Bowers is working on a $15 million residential project in Randolph in which, he says proudly, 87 percent of participating contractors are minority-owned. "I have a history of dealing with minority firms and putting them to work and teaching them to do quality work," he says. The CDC needs to try harder, he says. His firm might have bid on the condo project, he says, but "I didn't know anything about it."