City Touts Equity Pick for $71M Contract

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The Dallas City Council moved to spend $71 million in taxpayer money on the new Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, ensuring the project aligned with the City’s Racial Equity Plan.

Last November, Dallas voters passed Proposition A, which allows the City to increase the hotel occupancy tax and direct such funds toward replacing the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

During Wednesday’s council meeting, council members awarded the $71 million contract to Inspire Dallas for management services related to the first phases of the project. Dozens of stakeholders, including Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, came to City Hall to voice their support for the selection of Inspire Dallas for the contract and the convention center project.

Council Member Omar Narvaez (District 6) asked City staff, “Is the representation of this team reflective of our diversity goals and alignment with the City’s Racial Equity Plan?”

“Yes. Emphatically. The makeup of the Inspire Dallas team is comprised of diversity,” replied Joyce Williams, director of the Small Business Center for the City. “Overall diversity participation of this component [is] 57.5%.”

Council Member Zarin Gracey (District 3) called the deal a “huge success.”

“This is what we set out to do when we had the journey of equity years ago,” he said. “This is an outcome that we can all put our hands on and say in every aspect we’ve achieved our goal.”

While most council members supported the deal, Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) voted against it. She highlighted several reasons why she opposed the project and questioned why Inspire Dallas was selected over other experienced candidates.

She said she is “100% opposed to doing a design-build project” as it leaves details unclear and opens the door to future cost increases. Mendelsohn also noted that Inspire Dallas also helped develop the Omni Dallas Hotel that sits near the convention center location.

“I think there’s no question that the firm has done really wonderful things in Dallas, and I commend them for that,” Mendelsohn said. “There’s also no question that this project itself will increase the value of their other holdings, and I think that’s a conflict. The Omni Convention Center that you’re praising still has $400 million of debt that our taxpayers are going to be responsible for.”

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, the City of Dallas’ operations are shot through with equity initiatives that some legal experts have opined may be unconstitutional.

Erin Wilcox, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, previously told The Dallas Express there is reason to expect a wave of legal challenges against equity programs that prioritize certain groups over others.

“The idea that diversity for diversity’s sake is not a strong enough reason to treat people differently based on race was a key part of the Supreme Court’s decisions [on race-conscious college admissions],” Wilcox said to The Dallas Express. “In reality, all this does is divide by race and make it harder for people to compete in the marketplace.”

Construction on the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center is scheduled to begin toward the end of 2024.

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