The District's urban renewal agency yesterday expressed "grave concern" that a minority-owned firm created by one of the city's large parking companies from among its owners and employes has received a parking contract with the new Washington Design Center in Southwest Washington.
The Redevelopment Land Agency board took the action after hearing from the city's Minority Business Opportunity Commission (MBOC) that the group was not really a minority-controlled business because "the primary economic benefits of the proposed lease will flow to" white-owned Colonial Parking Inc., which created the new firm.
The staff of the city's housing department disagreed, saying the new partnership did constitute a minority firm because 56 percent of the ownership belonged to minorities.
The issue of what is a minority firm and which city agency can make that distinction arose as the RLA reviewed the affirmative action commitment made by the Washington Design Center nearly two years ago. That commitment included awarding a minority firm the five-year lease to run the center's 140-car parking lot, which could gross an estimated $250,000 a year.
"We are delighted with the opportunity for a minority venture to get involved. The question is to be sure that the group is separate and apart from Colonial," said RLA chairman Nira Long.
Long and board member Judith Jenkins, both of whom have worked on affirmative action programs with the federal government, expressed doubts about whether the new business was a minority venture. A third member, the Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, said he was satisfied that the firm was owned and controlled by minorities.
"We believe that it is genuinely a minority venture under the terms of the affirmative action plan," said Thomas Kennedy, the Design Center's lawyer. He added that the MBOC report contained "a substantial number of errors."
Kennedy told the board last month that the center had surpassed its goals for awarding construction contracts to minority firms. He said that minority firms had also been awarded contracts for janitorial services and to operate the center's restaurant, newsstand and security force.
The RLA passed a resolution expressing reservations about the parking contract. The Design Center has virtually completed its building on a site at Fourth and D streets SW that the agency sold the center last year.
Colonial Parking Inc., which operates 70 parking lots and garages, was one of eight bidders for the five-year parking contract. But the bid was rejected because of the requirement for a minority firm, said Kennedy.
Russell Lindner, Colonial's general counsel, said he and George Cook, the vice president and general manager, then thought of creating a minority firm, and they decided to include all employes with more than 12 years with the company.
The 51-member partnership also includes the three owners of Colonial, Thaddeus Lindner, Sergius Gambal and Cook, as well as Russell Lindner, Thaddeus Lindner's son, and three of Cook's assistants.
In documents submitted to the city, the Design Center lawyers said "the partnership has been sponsored and promoted by Colonial as a means of rewarding faithful employes and is an extension" of other company benefits that Colonial has maintained over the years.
The Parking Group won the lease after several existing minority-owned firms failed to meet the requirements established by the Design Center. The group plans to contract with Colonial to run the daily operations of the parking lot.