MCI Center Promises More Construction Jobs
By David Montgomery
Building Abe Pollin's downtown sports arena has provided 272 new construction jobs for District residents, slightly behind the hiring pace specified by city law.
But MCI Center executives promised this week they will fulfill the requirement that 51 percent of all new construction jobs District residents by the time the structure is complete in the fall.
The job requirement applies to projects the city played a role in developing. In the arena's case, the city paid $50 million to prepare the site. By the end of May, 38 percent of the new construction jobs had gone to District residents, according to the Department of Employment Services.
Residents of Shaw -- the nearest residential concentration, north of the arena -- are monitoring the arena's job record closely. Some feel the neighborhood has not received its fair share of the work.
Now, as residents brace for the proposed new convention center that the city wants to build in their neighborhood, the arena experience has become an object lesson on what job opportunities might be available.
"Initially with the MCI Center, [jobs for Shaw] didn't happen," Mayor Marion Barry acknowledged at a community meeting this week. "Finally we are beginning to get some people out of Shaw" working on the project.
The arena builders also announced plans for a series of career workshops in Shaw and in other neighborhoods to hire as many local residents as possible for at least 200 part-time jobs that will be created when the MCI Center opens as home to Pollin's Capitals hockey team and Wizards basketball team. The exact opening date in the fall has not been set, said John Stranix, chief operating officer of D.C. Arena Associates, the consortium building the arena.
A construction crew of 550 is working to finish the $175 million structure now taking on a recognizable shape at Gallery Place in Chinatown. The 20,000-seat arena is about 80 percent complete. Stranix said what remains is mainly interior work: hanging drywall, painting, running cable and laying floor tile.
"It's one big finishing job right now," Stranix said.
The percentage of jobs held by District residents has fluctuated during the life of the project. Stranix said there are many District candidates for the type of work yet to be completed, while the city happens to have few people skilled in some work required earlier, such as erecting steel.
Shaw residents who support the arena and convention center projects say job recruitment got off to a rocky start, in part because of confusion among neighborhood factions and because many residents who applied did not have the skills required for the building trades.
"Now [the builder] is coming across and placing people on jobs," said Doris Brooks, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from Shaw.
Susan O. Gilbert, chief of the city's Division of Employer Services, said about 50 residents from Shaw have been hired to work on the arena, though there is no legal duty to hire from that neighborhood.
But LeRoy J. Thorpe, another advisory neighborhood commissioner and an outspoken critic of the arena and the convention center, said fewer than a dozen people from Shaw have worked on the arena.
"Those are inflated figures," Thorpe said. "It's a game they're running."
Labor unions and the Washington Convention Center Authority are considering a plan for an apprentice program in the neighborhood that, if approved, would teach building trades to residents in time to apply for jobs building the new convention center.
Pollin's sports and entertainment division is inviting 240 Shaw residents to enroll in 12-hour career workshops over the summer where they will get advice on resume writing, interview skills and other basics of job hunting. They will get interviews for jobs with the MCI Center and other large local employers, said Mary M. Davis, a vice president in charge of the program.
In addition, Pollin is sponsoring eight employment fairs -- four in Shaw and four elsewhere in the District -- for the 200-plus jobs at the completed MCI Arena. The 20-hour-a-week positions include hosts and hostesses, ticket sellers, cashiers, cooks, waiters and bartenders.
Stranix said it is unclear how many new full-time jobs will be available, but all will be posted with the city's Department of Employment Services. So far, five of six full-time positions have been filled with District residents, he said.
"It's like I fell into the job I was always looking for," said Tammie Wilson, 31, of Shaw, who landed a full-time job as an executive assistant. "I think it will be good for the neighborhood."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company