Charlotte builder irked at DNC choice of ATL firm

Ron Stodghill

A few days ago, I was chatting with former Charlotte Councilman Ron Leeper about the prospects of the Democratic National Convention being a financial jackpot for local businesses – and minority firms in particular.

For Leeper, a commercial builder, the question was loaded. Last month, his company lost in its bid to overhaul Time Warner Cable Arena and the Charlotte Convention Center.

Leeper, among the city’s largest African American builders, figured he had a solid shot at the contract, which is relatively small in dollars yet huge in symbolism.

In the bid, Leeper’s firm, which generates $15 to $20 million in revenues, had partnered with the Denver-based design firm Populous and building industry powerhouse Turner Construction, which had won previous DNC convention contracts in Denver and Chicago.

“The company has done the last two DNCs and did them well, so I thought it was good bet,” Leeper said.

Also on the team was Charlotte-based architectural firm Neighboring Concepts, owned by Darrel Williams, an African American and former Mecklenburg County commissioner.

Not good enough.

Charlotte’s convention officials awarded the work to Charlotte construction kingpin Rodgers Builders, Arizona-based Hunts Construction Group, and H.J. Russell inAtlanta, a large African American-owned construction company. The DNC ended up selecting Populous and Neighboring as the architects, and paired them with the selected firms.

“I was on the wrong team,” Leeper said, wryly. “Of course, I was disappointed. But I’ve gone after many contracts have haven’t been selected.”

Leeper is known around town for his level head, Christian faith, and civic involvement. Surely, a lot of his clout is rooted in his decade as a councilman, but he’s also gained respect for the legions of urban youths he has touched through various non-profits.

And then there’s his generous donations to Foxx and other local Democrats. During Anthony Foxx’s first mayoral run, Leeper contributed the $4,000 maximum, and put some cash in Foxx’s coffers in this latest re-election run. “This second time, I wasn’t so eager,” Leeper admits. “Plus, he already had a big pot.”

Leeper emphasizes that Foxx and Co. owe him nothing in return for any financial support, but he also says: “You’d think it would help.”

He adds: “I consider myself to be a good Democrat. I spent 10 years on city council and have contributed to every major Democratic candidate who was consistent with my views.”

So, while Leeper doesn’t want to sound bitter over losing the DNC construction bid, he also makes it clear that this so-called “Peoples’ Convention” could end up disappointing many of the business people who, like himself, make up the fabric of this community.

“The die seems to have been cast,” he said. “If local was important, that was probably a missed opportunity for ethnic minorities.”

And frankly, it irks Leeper that the DNC chose H.R. Russell ofAtlanta, which boasts around $300 million in annual revenues.

“It certainly doesn’t meet the local test,” he says. “… They don’t contribute to the community. They have no office in

Charlotte. And they see no need to set up an office here because they’ll get the minority piece because they are the big dog in the fight.”

The irony isn’t missed on Leeper – and he’s figures he’s hardly alone.

“This isn’t just about me,” he says. “The fact that we have a black mayor and five African Americans on city council – does that really make a difference in my life? Why should I care? I mean, at the end of the day, how are blacks and other minorities benefiting from it?”

Post Script: Ron Leeper contacted me to take issue with the tone of my column. He said that my depiction of his loss to construction companies Rodgers, Hunt and Russell inaccurately portrayed him as harboring “sour grapes.” He also credited the DNC for awarding part of the work to black-owned contractor, Herman J. Russell of Atlanta.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Charlotte builder irked at DNC choice of ATL firm

  1. SEC713

    Ok. Dude lost the bid. Yes, it sucks. But do you actually think the DNC gives a crap about you? This is what happens when your first major political convention comes to town. Things are not always what they seem.

  2. Blackspeak

    Just another example of how many people succeed based on friendships, kinships, and politics…

  3. JRH

    It is not surprising these contracts are going to firms outside our city, or worse outside our state. When it comes down to it the Government does not care and they will take the lowest bid no matter where it comes from. For that reason, we stopped messing with state and federal contracts a long time ago in our business.

  4. Jackson

    The DNC choose a Charlotte based construction firm and a black owned Charlotte based architectural firm to do most of the work. What more does Mr. Leeper want? Is he upset that “all” the work did not go to Charlotte based firms, or simply because he didn’t get selected. Sour grapes. It seems Mr. Leeper would have been completely fine if some sort of shady insider network had worked to his advantage.

  5. Wiley Coyote

    Leeper emphasizes that Foxx and Co. owe him nothing in return for any financial support, but he also says: “You’d think it would help.”

    Funny, Democrats have been condemning Republicans for crony capitalism of late…

    The real irony is, one Black businessman is angry because he didn’t get the bid but another Black business did.

    There is no pleasing the “minority community”.

    Can’t have it both ways. Be glad another Black business got the bid, lick your wounds and move on.

  6. Crazy

    Although I agree that this should have been awarded to a local business or at least a company represented here, I think Mr Leeper shot himself in the foot. I think all that he mentioned, previously on the council and donations to Fox kept him from the winning bid. Otherwise it would have looked like the bribe that it was intended to be…

    I am black and just reading this report of My Leeper whine makes me happy he did not win and I have lost all respect for him as a human being. Seriously dude???

  7. Coleen Baker

    Another example of local projects going out of state is the proposed renovations to Bank of America Stadium. Panthers have chosen Populous, architectural firm based in St Louis, to head the renovations while local architectural firm who has provided design and construction services to stadium since its opening was shut out because Panthers want a “nationally recognized firm”. And yet the Panthers want all their local fans to show up and support the team – go figure

    • JRH

      Well Said!! Just becuase a company has an office in Charlotte does not make them local. Take a look at where the revenues go….Right back to the home office, not in charlotte. People are blinded by that fact. The Panthers expect local fans to come to games while a lot of their stuff is done with national firms.

  8. David

    It’s always a black thing…God forbid if we make it a white thing.

  9. Robert Long View

    Do you want a Republican plutocracy or a Democratic plutocracy? Treat me like a citizen not a consumer to be sold… !

  10. Two points/questions:

    Did Herman J. Russell, whatever it’s now called, get the work, and did BOFA hire Populous from out of state, because no one here was good enough? If so, the problem is ours.

    Or did HJRussell get the work because they are so well connected? I think (not sure) they did the Dem Convention in Atlanta in 1988. If so, then connections not quality are what count. If so, the problem is everyone’s.

  11. Great Blog…! I’ll be back – hxxp://pc-matrixnet

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