Bankole: Detroit demolition contractors say, ‘we are qualified’
Correction: This column has been updated to reflect that qualification rules do not require potential contractors to submit information on how much money they have in the bank.
The diversity fiasco in Detroit’s demolition program, where minority participation in the $148 million federal Hardest Hit Fund reportedly stands at 26 percent, has placed a searchlight on how it is being fairly and properly administered under Mayor Mike Duggan.
But the revelation about the abject lack of inclusion is not the only issue surrounding the program.
The other issue that repeatedly comes up regarding the demand for more minority involvement is whether there are qualified black demolition contractors in town who can perform the work needed to tear down buildings. And if they are licensed and bonded, can they execute large assignments compared to other major companies that are competing for similar contracts?
I went in search of black contractors to get answers regarding their qualifications amid the program’s dwindling diversity numbers.
“Of course we are qualified to do any work in the city. We know how to fill out the paperwork,” says Detroiter Sheila Dapremont, owner of 3D Wrecking, who comes from a family of demolition contractors.
Her interest in the business dates back to when her grandfather, Estell Wright, owned E. Wright Wrecking Inc., which allowed Dapremont to learn the ropes of the trade at age 16.
“My grandfather taught me that if you ever do a job, do it like you live next door to the property,” Dapremont said. “He was simply saying take pride in your work. Don’t sidestep.”
But the business she’s been in for decades has been more of a roller coaster – with hits and misses – going through different successive administrations as far back as Mayor Coleman A. Young.
Dapremont, who currently isn’t bidding on Detroit’s demolition program, holds a class A unrestricted license, the same license that major companies have. That means her company can demolish any structure no matter the size.
The issue black contractors right now are facing in the Duggan era, according to Dapremont, is a prequalification rule that now makes it harder for many of them to compete for contracts. She said that wasn’t the case with prior administrations because what was mainly required to bid on a deal was a license and a bond.
“It’s difficult for smaller contractors. The rule requires you to submit tax returns... and other things,” Dapremont said.
The prequalifying measure stands to benefit large companies at the expense of smaller ones, including black-owned contractors.
She added, “We don’t accept the fact that they think we are just illiterate and don’t know how to fill the paperwork out. We are intergenerational. We know this business and the pride comes in from years of history. My grandfather tore down where the Renaissance Center is.”
Mike Farrow, president of the Farrow Group Inc., holds the same top business license as Dapremont and also comes from a construction lineage. His father, Frank Farrow, started Dependable Trucking in Inkster and he got in the business at 19.
“If it wasn’t for Mayor Young, I wouldn’t be in business,” Farrow said. “Back then it was important for me to run a machine as opposed to being in general labor.”
Farrow is a member of the city’s Board of Wrecking Contractors, which grants licenses to new members of the industry and isn’t participating in the present demolition program. But he has had major deals in the past including tearing down the Tigers Stadium, working on Belle Isle for the Grand Prix and construction of the M1 Rail.
“The misconception about black contractors is that you will not get the job done in a timely manner or you don’t have the skill set,” Farrow said. “The answer is never quitting when dealing with those challenges.”
But longtime ago advice from his dad dictates the business ethics of the company he founded 20 years ago.
“My dad told me to have integrity in this business, taking time out to understand your client and turn over your project on time and on budget,” Farrow said. “I take pride in what I do. I don’t take the gifts I have in this business lightly.”
For Farrow, the quest for access to opportunity is about employment for young people.
“When I go out with my crew, you can see the enthusiasm among young people. But who will hire them? How can we give back when we don’t have opportunities?”
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.