Democratic convention officials Tuesday awarded contracts worth $7 million to overhaul Time Warner Cable Arena and outfit the Charlotte Convention Center as a media workspace.
In announcing the event's biggest contracts, officials touted the participation of local and minority-owned companies as well as the promise of jobs in a still-sluggish economy.
Convention CEO Steve Kerrigan said the contracts also would "maximize union labor." But he declined to say to what extent union workers are expected to participate.
Appearing with Kerrigan at a news conference, Democratic Mayor Anthony Foxx said the new contracts represent "hundreds of high-paying jobs."
Republicans have sought to make jobs and unions issues in Foxx's re-election campaign and against President Barack Obama. Last week, as Obama began a bus tour of North Carolina, GOP National Chairman Reince Priebus criticized him for favoring union workers over local workers in awarding convention jobs.
Two of the Democratic National Convention Committee's three contracts awarded Tuesday went to out-of-state firms with local partners.
Charlotte-based Rodgers Builders joins Arizona-based Hunt Construction Group and H.J. Russell and Co. of Atlanta as construction manager. Hunt built the arena. H.J. Russell is the nation's fourth-largest minority-owned business.
The companies will oversee the seven-week conversion of the arena into a convention hall, with work starting July 14. After the convention ends on Sept. 6, they'll have three weeks to restore it.
CEO Pat Rodgers of Rodgers Builders chairs the Charlotte Chamber. She has donated to both Democrats and Republicans.
Charlotte-based Neighboring Concepts is partnering with Populous, a global design firm operating out of Denver, as "event architect." They'll focus on mechanical and other modifications at the arena.
Populous worked on the 2008 and 1996 Democratic conventions, as well as at 27 Super Bowls and 10 Olympics. Neighboring Concepts is led by former Mecklenburg County commissioner Darrel Williams, an African-American. He gave Obama $1,000 for his campaign in 2008.
Maryland-based Hargrove won the contract as the "exposition and event services provider." The company, run by Carla McGill, specializes in trade shows and other special events. It will partner with Charlotte's McFarland Corbitt to recruit minority subcontractors.
Among other things, the company will provide around 3,000 chairs and 2,500 tables, along with 8,000 running feet of drapes in a variety of colors, in the arena and convention center.
Spending less this time
Though Kerrigan said a breakdown of the $7 million was unavailable, the largest piece is expected to be the construction-management contract.
At the 2008 convention in Denver, three companies joined together for a similar contract worth more than $12 million.
Kerrigan said one reason the Charlotte work will cost less is because there's no need for air-conditioned pavilions for the media next to the arena. Here, the media will be housed at the convention center. About 15,000 media representatives are expected in Charlotte.
"We're going to continue to do what every American family is doing," Kerrigan said, "doing more with less."
To underscore the participation of women and minorities, two women and a handful of African-Americans stood alongside Kerrigan at Tuesday's news conference. There was no identifiable union presence.
Declining to say how much work would go to organized labor, Kerrigan said, "We don't set quotas."
One union official said she takes convention organizers at their word.
"I'm not advocating for a quota for union labor," said MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO. "But I believe that folks in the labor movement and in the local community will eventually want to know how many jobs went to union members, to women, to people of color and to those who were unemployed."
Stone: too few jobs
James Ferguson, a lawyer who organized the Carolina Regional Minority Partnership Coalition in the lead-up to the convention, said he's "glad to see that minorities have been included."
"We have not yet had an opportunity to fully analyze these bids," he said. "We will be looking at them and other bids more closely to determine the real impact on minority inclusion in the process."
Scott Stone, Foxx's Republican opponent, said the convention-related jobs won't offset those that have been lost. He pointed to September's Charlotte Business Confidence Index, by UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute, which showed confidence in the economy among local business leaders fell in the third quarter.
"We certainly hope there will be lots of jobs that come with the DNC," he said, "but those will be temporary jobs. And that doesn't change the fundamentals of the business climate."
Foxx's campaign points to a net increase of nearly 4,000 jobs between when he took office in December 2009 and August 2011.