Black Executives Seek Stake in Nats' Future
Thursday, April 27, 2006
The race to own the first major league baseball team in Washington in more than 30 years has attracted a cross-section of prominent, well-heeled African Americans, reflecting not only the desire of District officials to have owners who mirror the city's population, but also the evolution of the region's black professional and business community.
More than two dozen African Americans are spread among the three groups said to be finalists for the Nationals franchise. They are developers, bankers and partners at big-name law firms. They include national names such as former secretary of state Colin L. Powell and local entrepreneur Rodney Hunt, who built a $325 million federal contracting firm. Some have inherited wealth, while others have only recently become multimillionaires.
"Twenty years ago, you wouldn't have had that depth. . . . You would have had people who were emerging, but the depth . . . is unparalleled," said Ernie Jarvis, who is a managing director in the District office of CB Richard Ellis. Jarvis and his cousin Bill are part of a group of investors bidding for the team with Indianapolis communications executive Jeffrey Smulyan.
The deep bench of wealth and talent in the area's black community has been decades in the making. The federal government initially helped foster a black middle class in the region, offering job and contracting opportunities for African Americans when the private sector didn't. The District government, after the establishment of home rule in the mid-1970s, followed suit, albeit on a smaller scale.
Richard S. "Dickie" Carter, owner of Urban Service Systems Corp., a member of the Smulyan group, won one of the first contracts awarded by Marion Barry's first administration.
As the region grew and its economy diversified during the 1980s and 1990s, it spawned new generations of black entrepreneurs and professionals who built careers entirely in the private sector.
Many of the prospective African American team owners fall into the latter category.
Radio One Inc. chief executive Alfred C. Liggins III runs the radio broadcast company founded by his mother, Cathy Hughes.
Another Smulyan partner, Dwight Bush, has worked in finance for 25 years and leads BET founder Robert L. Johnson's new banking business, Urban Trust Bank.
George W. Haywood, a member of the group led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, was a managing director at Lehman Brothers and ran his own hedge fund before becoming a private investor.
One of Haywood's partners, Dennis F. Hightower, is a former executive of Walt Disney Co.
Sports ownership groups are structured differently, and there has been controversy over the degree of actual involvement of some of the partners. Often, that depends on how much money they invest, and those details have not been divulged by any of the bidders.