Minority participation draws complaint as city bids out convention center work again

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There's a lot riding on the city re-doing its convention center. But time is ticking away and the project still hasn't begun.

In fact, Tuesday is the deadline for a third round of bids.

Contractor Kirby Salton made a point of calling out council members Tuesday, especially when it comes to who's getting contracts on the new convention center.

"These numbers they're touting, I live them every day, and I'm telling you they're smoke and mirrors," he said.

Mayor Jim Strickland often references stats showing increases in contracts with minorities and women-owned businesses at City Hall.

He says in his first full year the number of minority contracts nearly doubled from 13 percent to 21 percent.

Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowan says they're contributing to the convention center project worth $175 million.

"We had set a 30 percent MWBE goal on this and I'm pleased in the first round of bidding all the vendors came back with something exceeding 30 percent," McGowan said.

But there's another problem with that project: they're on the third rounds of bids. And if construction doesn't start soon, it won't finish by the time the Church of God and Christ Convention moves back to Memphis in November 2021.

Salton insists the entire process is flawed.

"These women-owned businesses are really not owned by women," he said.

City leaders say they continually check in with these businesses and make sure they're following the rules.