Black-owned businesses and The Diamond

9/22/2022, 6 p.m.
Richmond has long been home to thriving Black businesses and it is exciting to know that the future looks bright ...

Richmond has long been home to thriving Black businesses and it is exciting to know that the future looks bright for several such enterprises that have been tapped to help develop the new Diamond District on the city’s North Side.

Indeed, the late-great Richmond-born tennis legend Arthur Ashe, for whom Arthur Ashe Boulevard is named and where the Diamond District will be built, would be pleased to see the forthcoming batch of Black-owned businesses that will help spur development and growth on 67 acres in his hometown and just miles from where he grew up.

After his tennis career ended and before his untimely death in 1993, Mr. Ashe carved a solid business career of his own, which 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 body of work, “A Hard Road To Glory,” a stint as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, and the founding of numerous charitable organizations, including the National Junior Tennis League, the ABC Cities Tennis Program, the Athlete-Career Connection, and the Safe Passage Foundation.

“One important key to success is self-confidence,” Mr.Ashe is quoted as saying. “An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”

Mr. Ashe’s off-the-court legacy should not only be cherished, but studied by the Black men and women busi- ness owners who are eager to further carve their fortunes in the myriad opportunities the pending Diamond District presents.

In last week’s Richmond Free Press, reporter Jeremy M. Lazarus unveiled plans for the $2.4 billion mixed-used project, which includes a new baseball stadium. Leading the project is RVA Diamond Partners, 45 percent of whose members are Black-owned.

The largest Black-owned business is Loop Capital, which has a taken a 45 percent stake in the development, according to the partnership, whose largest members also include Republic Properties Corp. of Washington, D.C. and Henrico County-based Thalhimer Realty Partners, which is part of a commercial real estate juggernaut, the Cushman & Wakefield Alliance.

Loop Capital is a 25-year-old Chicago-based investment bank that its chair and chief executive officer James Reynolds Jr. founded.

The companies are eager to get started and expect to see the project put on a fast track next week. Despite a lack of financial details, seven members of City Council already committed to passing a resolution endorsing the city’s selection of the development team and clearing the way for a final agreement to be reached. Council is scheduled to vote its support on Monday, Sept. 26.

Meanwhile, seven Richmond area Black-owned businesses or individuals are already part of the RVA Diamond Partners team.

They include Michael A. “Mike” Hopkins and his development arm, M Companies, and his building 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 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 the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, the creation of three women, Kelli Lemon, Shemicia Bowen and Amy Wentz, which will be involved in the operation of a food hall at the site.

The list also includes Ervin B. Clarke, founding publisher of Urban Views Weekly and president and chief executive officer of the Central Virginia African-American Chamber of Commerce, who is to be a minority business coordinator.

The Southside Community Development and Housing Corp., based on Hull Street, also is to participate.

Other Black-owned companies include the Robert Bobb Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public and private business management consulting firm led by former Richmond City Manager Robert C. Bobb; and Capstone Development, a hotel, residential and mixed-use development firm based in Chevy Chase, Md., that is led by its founder and president Norman K. Jenkins.

Additionally, NixDevCo, a Prince George’s County, Md.-based real estate development and advisory group led by founder Raymond Nix is among the Black-owned businesses, as well as Determined by Design, a Washington, D.C.-based interior design firm led by founder Kia Weatherspoon.

The partnership also has committed to working with Virginia Union University to get its hotel and hospitality training program off the ground. And, the group wants to work with Richmond Public Schools in developing a construction training center in a former tobacco factory on Maury Street in South Side that Altria donated to the school system. Representatives have said the partnership is prepared to invest $40 million to make that happen.

The spokesperson for RVA Diamond Partners, Jay Smith of Capital Results, the team’s public relations firm, said the list is expected to expand over time.

A list of potential of Black-owned and minority construction firm has been compiled, 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 primed to establish their mark on Richmond’s future.

Or, as Arthur Ashe or any legendary athlete might say: “Game on.”