OXON HILL – While construction of the MGM Casino continues at the National Harbor, some residents plan to file a lawsuit claiming the company has failed to make good on its agreement with the county. Members of the Prince George’s County Business and Contractor Association said they plan to file a lawsuit in the Prince […]
OXON HILL – While construction of the MGM Casino continues at the National Harbor, some residents plan to file a lawsuit claiming the company has failed to make good on its agreement with the county.
Members of the Prince George’s County Business and Contractor Association said they plan to file a lawsuit in the Prince George’s County Circuit Court.
According to Bruce Branch, who represents the Prince George’s County Business and Contractor Association, MGM promised to give African American contractors 32 percent of the work on the casino under a community benefits agreement with the county. About 72 percent of the work has already been awarded, Branch said, and there are numerous complaints from African American contractors who have been denied opportunities to work on the project.
“For FedEx Field, African Americans did not get contracts. On the Wilson bridge, African Americans did not get contracts. The Gaylord, we were promised, but African Americans did not get contracts,” Branch said. “They said this time it would be different, African American firms would get contracts. We’re not talking about token contracts. We’re talking about like what Marion Barry did in D.C. with BET, which created generational wealth for Bob Johnson.”
African American contractors deserve the same opportunity, Branch said, with a majority of the population in the county being African American.
“This was supposed to be our Atlanta Airport where we created opportunities and jobs for minority contractors and the community,” said business consultant Mel Forbes. “To date, none of that has happened. If we can’t get contracts in what is supposed to be the most affluent, educated African-American county in the nation, then it won’t happen anywhere. Right now, Prince George’s is the laughing stock of the nation when it comes to minority contracting because we don’t have any elected officials who will stand up like Marion Barry and do what is right.”
According to Gordon Absher, vice president of communications with MGM Resorts International, the footprint of the building continues to undergo construction. Currently, more than 800 people make up the construction workforce and the excavation of the site is nearly complete.
Gordon Absher said MGM has engaged 62 minority businesses certified by either the state or the county.
Absher said MGM would like to meet the number of Prince George’s County residents and minority businesses they committed to having.
“One of the things that we are doing to prioritize local county residents on this job is we’re working with the county and the Economic Development Corporation to set up a community resource center at the Clarion hotel close to our site,” Absher said. “Inside there is a new site where local residents, someone who wanted to work on construction on our job, can go in there and register so that when a subcontractor on our job needs concrete workers, they go to that database and locals are prioritized.”
The African American business community has threatened to shut down any further projects, Branch said, until African Americans contractors are assured they will get a fair chance to work on projects within the county. They will continue to have town hall meetings, just as they did on Saturday, to mobilize support.
“We have serious concerns because the contract lists a certain requirement for the developer, MGM, to meet and one of those is a very broad definition of Minority Business Enterprises. There are over 40 groups that qualify as MBE’s, so MGM can use its own funders,” said Joe Gaskins, interim president of the Black Caucus Foundation.
A fair study, Gaskins said, would have shown that more than 7 percent of county businesses are African American-owned. In meetings with Whiting Turner, the general contractor constructing the casino, Gaskins said the county indicated that African American and MBE firms should use joint ventures and partnerships to increase their capacity in order to perform on the site.
“We used that tool, but none of the companies that were brought to the table were accepted,” Gaskins said. “Statements were made that companies brought up were a front, but in actuality those companies had been doing business in the region for 30 years. And they’ve always operated in the region.”
The Prince George’s County Business and Contractor Association remains concerned about upcoming projecting including the Purple Line, the Regional Medical Center and the FBI building that may potentially come into the county, Gaskins said.
“Unless we correct this problem now, we will be in the position of, again, having the same problems in terms of addressing remedial actions for years of discrimination against the African American business population,” Gaskins said.
Meanwhile, construction continues on the casino. The first two tower cranes have been erected, Absher said, and a total of 10 cranes will be up and operational by the summer. The site is scheduled to be opened in the second half of 2015.
“Since we received our building permits in August 2014, most of our work has been excavation and underground,” Absher said. “People passing the site have already begun to see more work above ground. They will very soon begin to see larger concrete placements being made and, by summer, they will see steel in the air.”