Richmond has long been home to thriving black-owned businesses, and it’s exciting to know that the future looks bright for several such businesses that have been tapped to help develop the new Diamond District on the city’s North Side.
Indeed, the late Richmond-born tennis legend Arthur Ashe, for whom Arthur Ashe Boulevard is named and where the Diamond District will be built, will be delighted to see the upcoming batch of black businesses helping develop and grow the 67 acres in his hometown and just kilometers from where he grew up.
After his tennis career ended and before his untimely death in 1993, Mr. Ashe built a steady professional career that included positions as a commentator for HBO Sports and ABC Sports, a columnist for the Washington Post and Tennis magazine, the publication of a three-volume anthology, “A Hard Road To Glory,” a stint as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, and the founding of numerous charities, including the National Junior Tennis League, the ABC Cities Tennis Program, of the Athlete-Career Connection and the Safe Passage Foundation.
“An important key to success is self-confidence,” Mr. Ashe is quoted as saying. “An important key to confidence is preparation.”
Mr. Ashe’s legacy off the field should not only be appreciated, but studied by black men and women business owners willing to further carve their fortunes in the myriad opportunities the Diamond District presents.
In last week’s Richmond Free Press, reporter Jeremy M. Lazarus revealed plans for the $2.4 billion mixed-use project, which includes a new baseball stadium. Leading the project is RVA Diamond Partners, 45% of whose members are black.
The largest black-owned firm is Loop Capital, which has a 45 percent stake in the development, according to the partnership, whose largest members also include Republic Properties Corp. of Washington, DC and Henrico County-based Thalhimer Realty Partners, which is part of a commercial real estate firm, the Cushman & Wakefield Alliance.
Loop Capital is a 25-year-old Chicago-based investment bank founded by Chairman and CEO James Reynolds Jr.
The companies are eager to get started and expect to see the project up and running quickly next week. Despite the lack of financial details, seven City Council members have already committed to passing a resolution that would approve the city’s selection of the development team and pave the way for a final deal. The Council is scheduled to vote on its support on Monday, September 26.
Meanwhile, seven Black-owned businesses or individuals in the Richmond area are already part of the RVA Diamond Partners group.
They include Michael A. “Mike” Hopkins and his development arm, M Companies, and his construction company, Enterprise Construction of Richmond. contractor Kenneth Jones’ Prestige Construction Group Inc. of Chesterfield County. Grace Washington’s J&G Workforce Development Services LLC. and the Black Muralist Sir James Thornhill.
Also on the list are Robert L. Easter’s city-based Kei Architecture, which is part of the design team, and Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, the brainchild of three women, Kelli Lemon, Shemicia Bowen and Amy Wentz, which will participate in the on-site food operation.
The list also includes Ervin B. Clarke, founding editor of Urban Views Weekly and president and CEO of the Central Virginia African American Chamber of Commerce, who is slated to be minority business coordinator.
Southside Community Development and Housing Corp., based on Hull Street, will also participate.
Other black-owned firms include the Robert Bobb Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public and private business management consulting firm headed by former Richmond City Manager Robert C. Bobb. and Capstone Development, a hotel, residential and mixed-use developer based in Chevy Chase, Md., led by its founder and president, Norman K. Jenkins.
Additionally, NixDevCo, a Prince George’s County, Md.-based real estate development and consulting group led by founder Raymond Nix, is among the black-owned businesses, as is Determined by Design, an interior design firm design firm based in Washington, DC led by founder Kia Weatherspoon.
The partnership has also committed to working with Virginia Union University to launch its hotel and hospitality education program. And, the group wants to work with Richmond Public Schools to develop a construction education center in a former tobacco factory on Maury Street on the South Side that Altria donated to the school system. Representatives said the partnership is ready to invest $40 million to make that happen.
RVA Diamond Partners spokesman Jay Smith of Capital Results, the group’s PR firm, said the list is expected to expand over time.
A list of Black-owned and minority-owned construction company possibilities has been drawn up, he said, with expectations that a portion will receive contracts and subcontracts when development begins.
Congratulations and all the best to the black-owned businesses that are preparing to make their mark on Richmond’s future.
Or, as Arthur Ashe or any legendary athlete might say: “Game on.”