Commercial real estate developer and former NFL player Bruce Smith has had his eyes set on the Oceanfront for years but he says “the establishment” won’t let him be a developer there.
Smith held a press conference at Rudee Loop in Virginia Beach Monday to “start a dialogue addressing the lack of diversity and inclusion at the city’s economic power structure.” Of three Oceanfront development projects he’s been involved with, he’s won one bid.
“I have to question whether the city has been aggressively pursuing its minority participation goals when lucrative projects that I have proposed as an African-American developer have been continuously denied,” Smith said.
The goals he’s referring to stem from a resolution adopted in 2008 by Virginia Beach City Council that aimed to increase minority participation in competitive contracts by 10 percent in three categories within a year. Now, Smith said they have only increased by 6.5 percent in goods and services, 2.7 percent for construction and contracts and less than one percent in architecture and engineering.
Smith criticized the mayor for not meeting those numbers almost a decade later.
“If you’ve been working hard for eight years and these are the results of that work, we have a very serious problem,” Smith said.
Now, Smith said he and his partners are willing to pay for half of a disparity study that would measure the share of contracts minority firms have received in comparison to others.
“The mayor has said he doesn’t want to spend the money to do a disparity study … he doesn’t want the public to know how egregious these numbers are,” Smith said.
Mayor Will Sessoms was unavailable for comment Monday.
City council member John Urhin told Southside Daily he considers Smith a friend and said he’s surprised by Smith’s approach.
“Since I’ve been on council, we’ve only gone through for two different projects, but three different processes where we’ve gone through and asked for proposals for development at the Oceanfront,” said Urhin.
“Two of those processes were for the dome site, of which one Bruce participated in … the other one was for the headquarters hotel, which was proposed to be across from the convention center, which he actually won. He participated in it with Armada Hoffler and Hyatt.”
Smith said he was involved with Armada Hoffler Properties Inc. and Hyatt as an investor, but it’s the developer role that he’s after. Urhin said the project ultimately didn’t make it to the finish line because it didn’t get final council approval.
“An investor is typically silent, and that’s the way you would like to keep it,” Smith said in response to a letter from former city council member Linwood Branch. “I am seeking to be a developer where I have a voice, where I can be heard, where I can dictate what takes place in that development.”
Smith solely blamed Urhin for “killing” two of his development proposals, one for the dome site in 2007. But Uhrin said it was a decision made by six people to grant Texas developer Michael Jenkins the dome site in 2008.
Despite Jenkins winning the bid, Smith said nothing came of it and that there was a six-year extension at the taxpayers’ expense. He also said his proposal could have created thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue.
“If the corridors of prosperity and powers remain closed to minorities, and those outside the status quo of Virginia Beach, the city will never grow into the vast expanse of new possibilities and opportunities,” Smith said.
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