Malcolm Beech is the president of the National Business League of Greater Washington. (Twitter photo)

District Black businesses owners have repeatedly complained of their exclusion when the city negotiates lucrative financial deals. They are determined, however, to have a piece of the new D.C. United Stadium.

On June 9, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) along with a number of D.C. Council members, city staff, and leaders of D.C. United, the District’s professional soccer team, announced a final agreement for building a stadium in the Buzzard Point area of Southwest D.C.

“This agreement will add vibrancy to a neighborhood on the banks of the Anacostia River and generate jobs for District residents as my administration creates pathways to the middle class,” Bowser said.

Stadium completion is set for 2018 and the team estimates construction will cost an estimated $180-195 million. However, the mayor didn’t talk about business opportunities for local firms at the announcement.

While the mayor and the members of her administration exulted in the agreement, members of the National Business League of Greater Washington (NBLGW) were skeptical. “I was not privy or aware of what was going on with the stadium,” Malcolm Beech, president of the NBLGW, said at the organization’s monthly meeting June 11. “Small businesses seem to have been left out of the discussions in terms of what we want out of the stadium.”

As mayor, the late Marion C. Barry insisted that Black businesses get 35 percent of city contracts. Barry’s efforts produced business leaders such as Bob Johnson of BET and R. Donahue Peebles, who owns one of the largest Black real estate firms in the nation, as well as a host of Black businesses that benefitted from D.C. government contracts.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1989 {Richmond vs. J.A. Croson} case that minority set-aside programs are unconstitutional unless they can be proven by documented past discrimination. As a result of the ruling, District government leaders created the Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) program that gives preference to city businesses that are not identified by race but by their status as local, small, or disadvantaged.

While the CBE program has opened doors to businesses owned by women and other races and ethnicities, Beech and other Black business leaders argue that their chance to get city business has been harmed significantly.

“We have been trying to get a meeting with Brian Kenner, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, for months, but he has ignored us,” Beech said. “One of the things that we want to discuss with him is how small businesses, particularly Black businesses, can get more city contracts.”

The speaker at the June 11 NBLGW meeting was District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. Racine said that he understands the frustrations of Black businesses owners and pledged to be helpful.

“If you need me to set up a meeting with your organization and Mr. Kenner, I will be happy to do that,” Racine said. “This is something worthy to be pursued.”

Craig Stouffer, D.C. United’s director of communications, told the AFRO that the team is committed to working with CBE’s regarding the stadium and will enforce the city’s First Source agreement, which mandates that 51 percent of construction and in-stadium hires go to District residents.

Kamal Ali, co-owner of the internationally known Ben’s Chili Bowl franchise that has locations throughout the Washington metropolitan area, said that he is interested in the D.C. United Stadium.

“I will be happy to do that if it makes sense,” Ali said. “We have stands at Nationals stadium and at FedEx Field and they are doing well. Stadiums are a good way to make money.”

Ali said that Ben’s hasn’t gotten a formal offer to set up at D.C. United Stadium yet. Beech said that in order for Black businesses to win a stadium contract or a vending deal, they have to be assertive. “We must get out there and be involved and in the conversation,” he said. “We can’t be left behind anymore.”