The Wal-Mart Corporation has announced the hiring of a young but experienced minority woman-owned construction firm to be the general contractor for construction of its first Chicago store.
Broadway Consolidated Companies, Inc. (BCCI), which is currently handling the demolition of the four story brick building at the store’s future site at 4650 W. North Avenue will now also oversee the store’s construction. Work on the 150,000-square-foot building is scheduled to begin by the end of this month or early June, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Roderick Scott. Construction should be completed, he said, by late 2005 or early 2006.
“You know I’m excited,” said 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts Wednesday. “You know I’m absolutely thrilled.”
Mitts said the selection of BCCI is the result of hard fought negotiations with the retailing giant that have resulted in minorities and neighborhood residents being fairly represented in the demolition and construction phase of the project.
“This is probably the toughest job I’ve ever had with a project,” Mitts said. Among the issues Mitts dealt with were demands from both union and loan activists that Wal-Mart involve minorities in the demolition, construction and staffing of the store. Mitts had insisted over the past two years of debate that it was crucial to first get the retailer into the area, then negotiate sternly on issues important to the community.
Still, she said she had her doubts as negotiations proceeded. Wal-Mart, she said, had been considering using another general contractor besides BCCI.
“She wasn’t who Wal-Mart had in mind (originally),” Mitts said of Garner and BCCI. “It was the community that said they wanted Margaret. I had no idea it would turn out this way. Now we have a Black female contractor.”
Calling Garner’s selection “a first,” Scott said Tuesday that Wal-Mart was also pleased with the final decision. The selection of BCCI, he said, was “important in so many aspects.”
“She’s a very capable and very good contractor,” said Scott of Garner. “She has a considerable record in the Chicago area.”
Community concerns aside, capability and competence were at the top of Wal-Mart’s list of priorities, and Garner clearly met that goal. Scott said Wal-Mart was impressed with BCCI’s history, and with Garner herself.
On its website, the firm said it is “an 8(a) certified company that is a construction company first, and an 8(a) woman owned firm second.”
Scott said his company was comfortable with Garner after reviewing her credentials.
“There’s no better way to see how a person will act in the future than to look at the past,” said Scott.
And Garner, who is also President of the Federation of Women Contractors, has an impressive past. She started her career in the construction business in Pittsburg, working with the U.S. Department of Urban Development. Over the years she has worked extensively with both HUD and the Chicago Housing Authority on a variety of projects. That experience helped her firm quickly build a solid resume in public sector works projects after she incorporated in February of 2002. That record included a major subcontractor relationship with Chicago construction giant Walsh Construction on CHA housing rehabs and on over $13 million in work on the Upper and Lower Wacker Drive renovations. BCCI also performed $7.7 million in concrete work as part of the Chicago Shoreline Storm Damage Reduction project in 2002-03; $2.6 million in infrastructure renovation at three Divisions at Cook County Jail in 2002; and demolition and new construction of offices in the Randolph Metra Station concourse level worth $2.25 million in 2001-02.
Construction qualifications aside, Scott said that Garner’s overall approach fit in with how the company wanted to proceed.
“The way she wanted to go about developing the site was beyond reproach,” he said.
Over the past two years Wal-Mart had to battle through stiff local opposition from politicians, unions and local activists, all of whom argued that the retailing giant doesn’t care about the communities in which its store are locate, or the people in those communities.
Through out it all, they had the support of Emma Mitts, who argued forcefully that half a loaf was better than no loaf, and that concessions could be wrung out of the retailer once they’d been permitted to build in the city.
“We were working with Wal-Mart to get this store built by the community,” she said.
So far it appears that Wal-Mart has been sensitized to the community’s concerns.
The surrounding community, said Mitts, has been “genuinely empowered,” thanks to Garner’s approach.
What remains uncertain, say Mitts and others, is whether Wal-Mart will continue its current level of cooperation with the community when it’s time to hire the 150-some full and part-time workers who will staff the store starting next year.