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Chatham Business Group Helping Minorities Get Piece of CPS Construction Pie

By Wendell Hutson | April 17, 2013 6:19am

CHATHAM — A $220 million construction project slated this summer for Chicago Public Schools is just what the doctor ordered to help minority businesses, said Melinda Kelly, executive director of the Chatham Business Association.

"There's enough different areas of work needed from air conditioning and painting to installing windows for almost every minority business to receive work from this project," Kelly said. "Our purpose of meeting with businesses is to see what assistance could we lend them in getting their bids in by the deadline."

The deadline to respond to a Request for Proposals, which was issued April 9 by the Public Buildings Commission, is April 30, which Kelly said is tight but feasible. The maximum amount a single business could receive from the project is $12 million, according to Chuck Kelly, deputy director of Diversity & Compliance for the PBC.

"It's a really short time frame to get bids in, but that's why we wanted to meet with potential bidders to make sure they understand what it is they need to submit," Kelly said.

The CBA met with about 60 black businesses Tuesday at its Community Center, 800 E. 78th St., to answer any questions the group had about the project.

Desmond Brunson, founder and chief executive officer of Urban Floors & More, was among the black businesses represented at the meeting. 

"We [black businesses] need this project. Not just because we have bills to pay but because a project this size could raise our exposure and help land future jobs," Brunson said.

Elzie Higginbottom, founder and chief executive officer of East Lake Management & Development Corp., also attended the meeting and said the project is needed for black businesses especially during the summer when construction business is booming.

"This project is very important to the African-American community because it addresses the unemployment issue in the black community," Higginbottom said. "I plan on submitting a bid and hopefully teaming up with some of my fellow black contractors."

East Lake is no stranger to providing services for city projects. In 2000, East Lake was the developer for the Chicago Public Safety Building at 3510 S. Michigan Ave.

Erin Cabonargi, executive director of the PBC, which is overseeing the CPS project, met last week at Kennedy-King College with construction companies and architects interested in bidding on the project, and she attended Tuesday's CBA meeting as well.

"We want to support minority contractors. I encourage everyone here to keep the pressure on to ensure black contractors are being used for city projects," Cabonargi said. "I am here to let you know that we [PBC] are committed to diversity."

Larry Huggins, president of Riteway-Huggins Construction Services Inc., is happy to see a project geared toward small businesses.

"This is an excellent opportunity for small, black subcontractors to build up their capacity, which makes it easier to get financing for bigger projects," Huggins said. "Any small business in the construction industry should submit a bid. I know I plan on doing so."

Soft Sheen Products Co. Founder Ed Gardner said the jury is still out as to if the city will choose a fair share of black contractors for the CPS project.

"A fair slice is 50 percent, nothing less," Gardner said.