Arlington seniors want their new active adult center. Diverse businesses want a fair shot.
Senior citizens in Arlington just want a proposed active adult center built. That's a popular sentiment among Arlington Council members. But some are also concerned that diverse business didn't get a fair shot at a key contract.
So for now, the debate continues.
Early projections for the recreation facility in west Arlington for residents 55 and up, placed opening day in 2021 or 2022. However, the pandemic and discussion of whether to move the 68,000-square-foot building to a more central location stalled plans, according to city staff.
That delayed the new opening until late 2024. The project's design phase resumed this year and is set for completion in spring.
Council members are divided on what to do: Some say they do not want to cause more delays while others want more time to rework the bidding process. The city is negotiating with Manhattan Construction Group, a white-owned firm. Two Minority/Women-owned Businesses and Enterprises (MWBE), including Con-Real, the state’s largest Black-owned construction and real estate company, submitted bids.
That outcome raised a “red flag” for Barbara Odom-Wesley, District 8 council member. Manhattan has agreed to use MWBE firms for 30% of the contract work, but Odom-Wesley said she still wants to know why Con-Real’s bid did not fare better.
“(Con-Real owner Gerald Alley) is based in Arlington and he can’t win a bid with the city, but he’s done business all over the country? That’s a red flag for me — that says something is wrong,” Odom-Wesley said. “Something is wrong when this company can’t get a contract."
Council members will decide in January whether to accept Manhattan’s bid or restart and possibly change the contracting process. That has incensed residents who feel ignored after several delays.
“Our patience is done,” said Elva Roy, president of local group Ambassadors for Aging Well. “We’ve waited since 2017. The longer you wait, the costs will go up and the amenities and everything are going to be scrapped....”
Equity in Contracting
Odom-Wesley and District 6 Council Member Ruby Faye Woolridge have kept pressure on council and city staff as leaders work their way through recommendations from the Unity Council Report. The 132-page study examines disparities across city services and opportunities.
The council voted in March to raise the city’s goal for MWBE contract spending from 25% to 30%. The city also adopted a formal MWBE program and created the Office of Business Diversity to oversee its progress. Arlington city government met its 25% goal in Fiscal 2020, but a large portion of the spending went towards firms Asian- and white women-owned firms.
Black firms still have received less than 1% of the money Arlington spends on contracts, according to a September city newsletter. Woolridge and Odom-Wesley frequently point to that number when the council considers bids.
Black contractors and folks in the community have questions about equity in the process, Odom-Wesley told other council members.
“Everybody realizes now that we have some disparities we need to eliminate,” she said. “For me, it’s not just about this contract; it’s all about contracts from here going forward.
Other council members also raised questions about the process and potential bias. But they said the project has been too long delayed to take any more time to reexamine the bidding and construction costs will continue to rise.
“I think we take lessons learned from this” and apply them to larger projects, said District 1 Council member Helen Moise.
The council considered three options: to accept all bids in January; to reject all bids and restart the process; or reject all bids and consider changes to the process.
In an informal vote, half of council members present preferred to accept Manhattan’s bid, while councilmembers Nikkie Hunter, District 3, and Raul Gonzalez, District 2, said they wanted to reject the bids and restart the same process. Odom-Wesley and Woolridge voted to reject the bids and reexamine the process.
Mayor Jim Ross was absent from the meeting, but he'd indicated in previous discussions that he would support moving forward on the project.
Hunter said she changed her mind after several email and phone conversations with residents who do not want any further delays on center construction. Hunter said she now favors accepting Manhattan’s bid.
“I guess, for me, I was looking at it to try to solve one problem, but I don’t want to start another issue,” Hunter said.
Odom-Wesley said she does not want to delay the center. However, she wants the city to make good on its equity goals.
“Have we done our job by raising awareness and making a commitment to do better going forward?” she asked. “Is that enough? I don’t know. I’m thinking about that.”
‘Our patience is done’
Roy said she and her group, Ambassadors for Aging Well, are tired of waiting for a project approved in a 2017 election.
She and her group used their own funds to print and post campaign signs to support the bond funding. Come Election Day, Roy was a “sign twirler” outside a voting center. The vote, originally planned for 2016, was put on hold so voters could decide whether to use tax dollars to subsidize Arlington's controversial new ballpark, Globe Life Field.
The city has two facilities serving seniors, the Eunice Activity Center and the East Library and Recreation Center, both in east Arlington.
"For active seniors, there’s not much in Arlington,” Roy said.
Arlington voters overwhelmingly approved $45 million in bonds for the active adult center. City staff conceptualized Arlington’s active adult center with Grand Prairie’s Summit and North Richland Hills’ NRH Centre in mind.
The staff set the center’s budget knowing construction would take years. Capital improvement projects approved earlier took priority, including East Library and Recreation Center and The Beacon Recreation Center. Despite the perception the project idled for three years, the center is only 18 months behind schedule, City Manager Trey Yelverton said recently.
But Arlington’s seniors are ready to see the project "turn dirt," Roy said.
“The seniors who have invested their lives here and made Arlington what it is, they deserve better than what has happened,” she said.
Residents who wrote to council said they do not want the discussions about equity to leave the center in the lurch — including many who backed the plans and project funding initiatives several years ago.
“Don’t start with us,” said Pat Gleason-Wynn, who has advocated for the project for several years. “We’re already through the process and way far into the process.”
The most common question District 4 Council Member Andrew Piel gets from his constituents is about the adult center. And his constituents often are concerned about the delays.
“Pushing back things that delay the opening of this facility would be against what almost every single one my constituents tells me on a regular basis,” Piel said during the meeting.
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