By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
Construction on the Toyota Music Factory (formerly commonly referred to as the Irving Music Factory before Toyota acquired naming rights in September) continues, and the project promises to be a source of both revenue and entertainment for the City of Irving and its residents. However, according to one local activist, the project is not living up to its promise in terms of providing economic opportunity under the Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (M/WBE) guidelines set out in the beginning.
According to the agreement reached, the project administrators were to make a “good faith effort” to include 30 percent participation from M/WBE businesses during the design and construction of Irving’s newest entertainment designation. Ground broke on the project on Aug. 30, 2014.
Anthony Bond, founder of the Irving Chapter of the NAACP and who lobbied on behalf of the project since it was nothing more than an idea, recently requested documents from the city regarding costs of construction to date, and where the project fell in terms of meeting its M/WBE obligations. Currently, that figure rests at 13 percent.
To date, in terms of design and construction, the overall figure is $96,343,520. The amount paid to minority businesses is reported as $12,132,348. In the design phase, the M/WBE participation was close to the goal at 29 percent. It is during the construction phase where that percentage dropped.
“It is the essence of why I have championed Irving to adopt a M/WBE program,” Bond said, which the city did implement in 2007. “I believe the City of Irving had a genuine commitment, and I believe Ark had a genuine commitment. I don’t want to get into the blame and shame game.” However, Bond is frustrated to learn 70 percent of the dollars have been spent, and the remaining balance has already been allocated.
“I am crushed to see the numbers this low in such a diverse community. City of Irving did not participate in the bidding and the awarding of the bids on this project, which involved nearly $200 million. The land, venue and more belongs to the Irving taxpayers,” Bond said. He is not encouraged to learn there is a possibility of total minority participation may reach 20 percent. “Anything less than 30 percent is unacceptable,” he stated.
When contacted, the administration at the city’s office stated they had placed the responsibility for meeting minority contract goals on the developer.
“The City of Irving contracted with Ark Group of Irving, Inc., as the developer of the music factory,” said Susan Rose, communications director for the City of Irving. “Recruiting and securing M/WBE contractors is an adopted policy of the City of Irving. In our contract with Ark, they have agreed to comply with our Good Faith Effort Program when sourcing contractors. Ark provided the referenced documents to the City.”
“Recruiting and securing M/WBE contractors is an adopted policy of the City of Irving. In our contract with Ark, they have agreed to comply with our Good Faith Effort Program when sourcing contractors. Ark provided the referenced documents to the City.”
Ark Group of Irving, Inc. contracted with Skanska, an international construction firm with projects spanning the globe, to spearhead the construction of the project. Eric Bunner of Skanska responded to inquiries from the North Dallas Gazette and confirmed that Bond’s documentation was accurate. Bunner acknowledged that the minority contracts were running far lower than hoped for, but added that his firm has worked diligently to attract minority businesses to the project.
“Our team conducted extensive, proactive outreach – including direct solicitation to local M/WBE firms and minority trade organizations to create fair opportunities for all M/WBE firms interested in the project,” Bunner said. “This included facilitating opportunities for first- and second-tier M/WBE participation as well as multiple outreach events.”
While the construction project’s minority participation is currently running at 13 percent, Bunner expects that percentage to rise before the end of his company’s role in the process. He admitted it will probably fall short of the 30 percent mark, but there will also be further opportunities to push that figure higher.
“These efforts are expected to result in 20 percent M/WBE participation by the close of the project: nearly $19 million in contracts to M/WBE firms,” Bunner said.
“Please note, these numbers only include our portion of the project and does not include other components such as tenant build-outs of which we are not under contract to perform.”
While there is little doubt the expansive development will be a boon to Irving and its residents, from both a financial and social aspect, Bond is trying to see that commitments to the minority community are kept in the process. He submitted his first Open Records request on this matter more than a year ago now.
“The City of Irving and countless citizens have spent countless hours and numerous meetings, discussions, council meetings and executive sessions over the last nine years to get this Irving Music Factory to this point,” Bond wrote in a letter to the editor in April 2016. “I have gotten a verbal commitment from both Noah and Rick Lazes, the owners and heads of the ARK Group that they will comply with the city’s M/WBE Goals for a project such as this, and hopefully exceed them.”
As of this point in the process, there is a lot of ground to cover in order to catch up to that commitment.