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If we help build it, we will come.

It was a classic quid pro quo.

The Walt Disney Co. needed the votes of the 13 black members of the Virginia General Assembly to get a measure passed appropriating $163 million in state funds for Disney's America--the company's $650 million proposed theme park to be built 35 miles west of Washington, D.C.

Members of the Virginia Legislation Black Caucus needed assurances that Disney, which faced discrimination lawsuits in Florida, would give minorities a fair share of the 2,700 fulltime equivalent jobs created by the project.

Disney was able to gain the support of the black lawmakers after making hiring commitments. Neither side would provide specifics, since the project still must clear several hurdles before its 1998 scheduled opening, but both sides seem happy. "We made it clear that we did have some concerns about how Disney did business," says state Rep. William P. Robinson Jr., former chairman of the caucus.

Mark Pacala, Disney America's senior vice president and general manager, says finding minority contractors to work on the project should not be difficult, given its proximity to D.C. "There are more minority vendors and small businesses in this market than in perhaps any other market, and we're planning to take advantage of that."

Earlier this year, Disney settled a lawsuit that aleged racial discrimination at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., by agreeing to the terms of "Plan 2000." That settlement was advanced because Disney's America needed the support of the black politicians in Virginia. Minority participation now figures in Disney's evaluation of proposals submitted by prime contractors.

At Disney World in Orlando, construction contracts will total more than $600 million for the remainder of the decade, according to Thomas Flewellyn, Disney World's director of minority business relations. Between March and July of this year, Disney World awarded $2 million in construction contracts to minority prime contractors and $3.8 million indirectly to minority subcontractors. Disney World is also enticing large minority contracting firms to relocate to Florida with contract promises if they mentor local minority firms.

In Virginia, Disney's America has retained historian James Oliver Horton, a black professor at George Washington University, and brought black architect Dana Nottingham back to his native Virginia to direct real estate development. They also hired two influential black lawyers from the Richmond law firm of McGuire Woods Battle & Boothe, Jacquelyn E. Stone and James W. Dyke Jr., who are funneling minority businesses to Disney.

"Our initial approach to Disney came through those two individuals," says Warren M. Thompson, president of Thompson Hospitality L.P., a blackowned catering business in Reston, Va., (No. 44 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100). "I think it's remarkable they've hired a local law firm. And those partners are in turn bringing in local black businesses to do business with Disney."

Disney's America also sponsored a vendor workshop in June that attracted 1,800 participants, and one in five was a minority business.

Disney must also deal with some historians' fears that issues such as slavery will be trivialized by the theme park.

As Disney's America materializes, will pledges be remembered when contracts are awarded? "You can monitor our performance against our commitments," Pacala says. "We know our record and reputation are on the line."

The caucus members seem to be holding at least one more card though. "They're probably going to have to come back to the General Assembly to get certain other concessions. Any backsliding, of course, will meet with a good deal of difficulty from the caucus," Robinson says.
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Title Annotation:Newspoints; black legislators in VA support Disney theme park in return for job promises
Author:Hocker, Cliff
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Oct 1, 1994
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