A new management company for the Raleigh Business and Technology Center in southeast Raleigh could be selected as early as June, city staff announced last week in a public forum about the center.
The RBTC is a business incubator, helping small businesses in Southeast Raleigh get established and renting them office space at a discounted rate.
An audit of the facility in 2013 turned up financial inconsistencies and an overall lack of transparency at the center, which led the city to sever its contract with and evict from the space the company it had hired to run it.
The former board chairman of the center, Lawrence Wray, was arrested last November following a grand jury indictment that alleged Wray misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars from the center.
Although the city owns the facility, a $500,000 federal grant that helped get it built stipulated that the space must remain a business incubator until at least 2017. After that, it can be used as the city sees fit.
The public forum, held March 26, drew around 20 attendees and served as a way for city officials to give residents an update on a revitalization process for the center that began last June with a series of visioning sessions.
While that process was at times contentious, it allowed for the city to collect feedback and input from those who attended the various meetings and community forums held over the past nine months.
Assistant city manager Marchell Adams-David told attendees at last week’s meeting that the city had “looked at five different criteria that would set us up to have a good, productive incubator here in Raleigh.”
These criteria included governance, selection of clients, finances, measuring the impact of the center and the operation incubator facilities in general.
The majority of the responses to the survey were essentially unanimous — with the exception of one person, for example, everyone either agreed or strongly agreed that the board of directors for the center should oversee financial and investment decisions and be made up of business, academic and community leaders from Southeast Raleigh.
Of the 13 questions asked — which also included items such as “The incubator’s budget should be reviewed monthly and financial records should be audited annually” none had an agreement rate lower than 96 percent.
Gail Roper, Raleigh’s Chief Technology Officer, said 5,129 residents had received the survey. The city received 136 responses to the survey, 110 of which were conducted online.
Questions were raised at the March 26 meeting over what the criteria for selecting future clients would be, and how to insure there would be equitable participation across the entire economic spectrum.
Roper said the city was still working out the finer details of how the center would operate moving forward and that the process of preparing a request for proposals for a new management company would allow them to nail down many of the specifics.
“I think what’s going happen as part of RFP process is designing the criteria to look at access and affordability,” Roper said.
“Originally when plans were drawn we looked at market rate [rents]; I don’t know if that’s the route we’ll take moving forward, however, we may take baby steps to get there.
“We’re obviously not trying to limit access to anyone; we want to make it as accessible as we can.”
Adams-David said the city had elected to utilize an RFP to find a suitable management company because it would allow them to reach a specific solution from potential vendors.
“It tells why a specific approach is more efficient, it’s a more formal, focused & fair process that is very thorough in terms of expectations and desires.”
Adams-David said the process would also allow the city to address four chief areas of concern — dealing with a large number of responses, encouraging competition, informing bidders and suppliers and serving as an effective planning tool.
To help the process remain as fair and open as possible, the city selected an RFP Committee which will not only set the criteria for the proposals, but also assist with the selection process, which will be overseen by the city’s procurement staff.
The RFP Committee participants include Tashni Dubroy & Lloyd Williams of Shaw University, Dr. Ron Brown from St. Augustine’s University, Courtney Crowder, a Raleigh resident and entrepreneur, Veronica Alcine, also an entrepreneur and a member of the Central CAC, and Danny Coleman from the South Central CAC and Bo Marshall, a graduate of the center’s former Pacesetter program.
“It’s not us dictating, it’s not us controlling the process; it’s allowing a third party independent who submitted mits credentials and has a proven track record to hopefully fill up every room in the facility,” Adams-David said.
In addition to selecting the businesses which will be housed in the facility and helping them to grow and prosper, the new management company will also handle the ongoing maintenance of the facility itself, a task that has fallen to the city since it severed its contract with the last firm.
Roper said the goal is to have a draft RFP approved by city council no later than May 5, after which they will advertise and solicit the proposals. In June, they hope to make a recommendation to the city council for who will run the center.
Adams-David acknowledged that this timetable was “ambitious” but that the city was very eager to move forward with the revitalization.
“We don’t want to keep dragging this on; there’s been so much conversation in the community about what’s happening, what’s not happening,” she said.
“If [the center] is fully occupied, up and thriving, the parking lot is full, that’s a win-win for the community.”
Moving forward, Roper assured those in attendance that the city would continue to offer its full support to the center.
“The city is committed to making this project successful,” Roper said.
“I can’t speak to the levels or degree of financial commitment, but even though [the center] hasn’t been fully functional, the city has never walked away from that obligation.”