Exclusive: John Rocker uses film example to argue against minority set-asides for stadium

Published: 21 hours ago

Though it was anticipated to take a year and a half to finish, it took just 15 months to build the Empire State Building.
Or 410 days.

There was only goal in mind when the Starrett Brothers and Eken, the general contractors on the project, set to build the now iconic tower on 34th Street: Construct the largest tower in not just New York City, but the entire world.

And they did.

In just 15 months, the Empire State Building was completed.

This was the only mandate involved: Complete the project as inexpensively and safely as possible.

Having spent a number of years in real estate development, I’ve always marveled at the thought of a project of this magnitude being completed three months ahead of schedule.

Unfortunately, when completing projects in our world, the reality is far, far different than during the construction of the Empire State Building from 1931 to 1932.

Have you seen the Rodney Dangerfield movie “Back to School”? Dangerfield’s character is a successful businessman who goes back to college with his son to get his degree and encounters professors who “think” they know more than he does.
While his knowledge is entirely theoretical (though Dangerfield’s character has actually built a successful business), the business/economic professor believes he knows more about running a business.

During the initial classroom scene about how to run a business and build a factory for producing the product (“Widget, what’s a widget?”), Dangerfield’s character interrupts the professors’ cost-analysis model and state, “You left out a bunch of stuff.”
[See scene from "Back to School":]
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The professor replies with a smug, “Oh really? Like what for instance?”

Dangerfield goes on to state: “First of all you’re going to have to grease the local politicians for the sudden zoning problems that always come up. Then there’s the kickbacks to the carpenters, and if you plan on using any cement in this building I’m sure the teamsters would like to have a little chat with ya, and that’ll cost ya. Oh and don’t forget a little something for the building inspectors. Then there’s long-term costs such as waste disposal. I don’t know if you’re familiar with who runs that business, but I assure you it’s not the Boy Scouts.”

This is one of more honest scenes in movie history, where a successful businessman educates a college professor on what life is actually like in the real world of real estate, construction, contracting and business.

But it left out one of the more uncomfortable realities of what it’s like to bid on contracts for big projects backed with taxpayer money in modern America: mandates for certain percentage of the contract/contractors to be minority-owned businesses.
Had Dangerfield included a rant about finding a minority-owned contracting firm that could act as a “shell” corporation when bidding on large, taxpayer funded projects, then you’d have the most honest scene in movie history.

I think Martin Luther King was onto something when he told a crowd in Washington, D.C., back in 1963 that judging by content of character was a better guide to the future than judging by the color of one’s skin.

But the whole concept behind requiring a certain percentage of contracts go to minority-owned business seems to be a complete repudiation of King’s hope for America’s future.

Projects across America, in cities large and small, require certain percentages of minority-owned business participation, which is why I’m hoping an eventual remake of “Back to School” will include this important life lesson for would-be entrepreneurs. (Cast Steve Carrel in the Dangerfield role … that’s a license to print money.)

Which brings me to the announcement of the new $1.2 billion stadium to be built in Atlanta to replace the two-decades-old Georgia Dome.

The Georgia Dome is home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and the site of both the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and the SEC Championship game. The stadium hosted a Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and countless other sporting events, but in the arms race for best sports venue, it’s considered antiquated.

So if you were in the contracting business, there’s a lot of money to be made by bidding on the various projects that will go into building the new stadium.

But, there’s a caveat: 31 percent of the construction contracts involved in the building of the state-of-the-art retractable-roof stadium must be from a minority or women-owned business.

See? I told you Dangerfield didn’t get the entire lesson correct in the movie.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that even a quota of 31 percent isn’t enough for those firms still hoping to be judged by the color of their skin:
A group representing minority contractors is calling on the city and the Atlanta Falcons for transparency in construction contracts for the new $1.2 billion stadium replacing the Georgia Dome.

The Georgia Black Constructors Association said Monday it wants leaders to create a task force that would ensure there is minority participation in the bidding process. The task force should include members of the black business community as well as community leaders and a representative from the city, said association president Margaret Muhammad.

“We are open to meetings to see if we can get some transparency and information about the participation process,” Muhammad said.

The Falcons have said they want to have at least 31 percent of participants involved in the new retractable-roof stadium to hail from minority- or women-owned businesses.
So at least 31 percent of the contracts will come from minority-owned firms, though the number could be much higher. Of course, the definition of a “minority” is clearly a matter of semantics, considering that the black population of the city of Atlanta is 54 percent, and whites constitute a “minority” at 36 percent of the population.

But that’s not the point.

It took only 15 months to build the Empire State Building, back in time before those individuals like that of the character of Dr. Phillip Barbay in “Back to School” took over every level of government and tried to theorize their way to a better country.
Theories quickly collapse, becoming another “fantasy land” dream, when contrasted with real-world experience.

As liberals always say, usually trying to attack any conservative defending traditional morality, “it’s 2014, so our progressive ways have shown your prejudical mores to be outdated. Get with the times!”

Well, shouldn’t we then stop judging by the color of skin when awarding contracts for taxpayer-funded projects?
Shouldn’t we just judge by the character of the company and its track record of finishing projects on time and within the initial cost estimate?

Then again, as Dangerfield noted in “Back to School,” that’s not how business is done in America.