SWEET: Obama Foundation minority contracting demands for Obama Center

SHARE SWEET: Obama Foundation minority contracting demands for Obama Center
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Roark Frankel, director of Planning and Construction for the Obama Foundation, discusses the Obama Presidential Center project last week at the South Shore Cultural Center. | Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

The Obama Foundation on Wednesday announced firms in the running to manage the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, along with the demand that the winner commit to minority contracting and hiring goals designed to benefit struggling residents on the South and West Sides of Chicago, including youths and ex-offenders.

And in setting a high bar — demanding proof of a certain sort of corporate philosophy — the Foundation is also asking the four teams of firms in the competition to provide evidence of “past philanthropic spending, including those firm’s contributions to educational, environmental and civil rights causes.”

The firms also will have to answer for their own hiring practices, from whether there is diversity on their boards, among their vendors and in their own hires.

The release of the Foundations’ minority contracting goals comes the day after the creation of a new nonprofit economic development organization designed to kick-start the revival in the communities near the site of the future Obama Center complex in Jackson Park.

While large-scale economic deals leveraged off the Obama Center is an enormous goal — and involves myriad players and could take years — former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle can call the shots when it comes to hiring and contracting to construct their Center, with groundbreaking, once targeted for the spring, now pushed back to “late” next year.

A preliminary bidding document for the construction manager’s contract said the cost of the Obama Center complex was between $300 million and $350 million.

The hiring and contracting goals are:

• Fifty percent of the subcontracts set aside for minority and women business enterprises and businesses “owned by veterans, individuals with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals,” the foundation said.

• Of that, the Foundation is requiring that no less than 35 percent of the Center’s subcontracts be awarded to minority business enterprises.

• The firms bidding to be the construction manager must offer, according to the bid document, “new and innovative approaches” to hire from the South and West Sides and specifically Woodlawn, South Shore and Washington Park.

“Competing firms will be asked to detail how they plan to work with labor unions to increase the pipeline of talent among underrepresented groups. Competing firms are also being asked to think specifically about engagement among under-employed populations including ex-offenders and minority youth,” the foundation said.

The construction teams in the running — in one case the same minority firm is part of two bids — are:

• Clark Construction Group, Smoot Construction, Griggs Mitchell Alma Construction Group, LLC., Bowa Construction

• Turner Construction Company, Powers & Sons Construction Company, Ujamaa Construction Inc., Brown & Momen, Inc., Safeway Construction Company, Inc.

• Power Construction Company, Mortenson Construction, Griggs Mitchell Alma Construction Group, LLC.

• W.E. O’Neil Construction Company made the cut promising to find minority owned firms to partner with for the final bid.

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