The St. Petersburg City Council took an historic vote when it approved a contract with Horus Construction Services Inc. to do pre-construction work on a project in the 22nd Street South corridor.
The design-build contract for the Deuces Rising townhome and commercial development is one of the largest construction contracts awarded to a Black-owned firm in the city, according to several Council members and city residents.
“I’m humbled by the opportunity to work with you, especially working with the city of St. Petersburg where myself and my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews have grown up. It is what we consider a big privilege to work with you all,” Jonathan Graham, president and owner, told the City Council just before the April 8 vote.
Horus, founded in 2001 and based in Tampa, is one of the largest minority-owned companies in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area and has worked on projects throughout the Southeast U.S. and in Florida, including the Tampa Museum of Art, Moffitt Cancer Center’s new inpatient hospital, and several Hillsborough County schools.
“We’ve worked on a lot of projects but this particular project is very important to us as a company and as individuals because we haven’t had the opportunities in St. Petersburg and in Pinellas County to work on projects. We’ve gone all over Louisiana, North Carolina, but to work here, where we grew up, is important to us,” Graham said.
The initial phase of the contract calls for Horus to provide partial pre-construction services, including concept development, public engagement, schematic design, design development, cost estimation and constructability review, for $541,000. It’s the first step in what ultimately is expected to be a $16 million development with 26 townhomes and 28,500 square feet of commercial space. It will be located on about 2.8 acres between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue South, west of 22nd Street South, on a site that formerly was referred to as Commerce Park. The city has made several attempts to develop the site, in the heart of an historically Black neighborhood.
Horus has put together a team for the project that includes Black and minority-owned companies, said James Graham, Jonathan’s brother and vice president at Horus Construction.
“We just want to let you know that we have done our due diligence to make sure that this reflects the diversity of the community and it gives an opportunity for us and the subcontractors we will hire and bring in,” he said.
Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders was among those who noted the historic nature of the deal.
“To have Horus Construction, who is from the city of St. Pete, who has built all across the country and can’t get a window open in their own hometown, says a lot for us as a city,” Figgs-Sanders said.
Horus was one of four companies that submitted a statement of qualification in response to a request from the city to work on the project. A five-member evaluation committee recommended Horus, citing the team’s work on numerous developments relevant to the Deuces Rising project, state certification as a Minority Business Enterprise, and ties to St. Petersburg, among other factors.
“I want to emphasize how important it is for us to see this example of success, where hometown talent such as the Graham family can win a contract of this magnitude. That shows others it is possible and it also helps others dare to dream,” said Roy James Jr. He was one of several speakers who addressed the council before the vote. James is a second-generation business owner at James Insurance Solutions in St. Petersburg, a board member at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and a partner with the Sankofa Vision Group.
The City Council separately approved an agreement with the Sankofa Vision Group, made up of prominent Black leaders, to help identify funding sources and provide advice on the project design. The city will be the developer for the project.
Debate on both the Horus contract and the SVG agreement was contentious. Council member Robert Blackmon criticized the Deuces Rising project, saying it was encumbering the city with a commercial building that would benefit few people.
“The builder seems great and I think we need to have more opportunities for minority builders and also local companies. But just because we have a great builder doesn’t mean it’s a great project. It’s a terrible misguided deal that’s not in the best interest of [taxpayers]. It’s our duty to speak out when there’s a bad deal on the table,” Blackmon said.
The design-build nature of the project means that some details of the plan have yet to be worked out, but Council member Amy Foster, a supporter, said that’s not unusual.
“Now is the time. People have been waiting for 50 years for change, for longer than 50 years. It’s important we have a successful project. If we need to do this in phases for that to happen, then that’s what we should do,” Foster said.
Council member Brandi Gabbard said it’s been well over a year since Mayor Rick Kriseman announced the Deuces Rising plan and it was time to act.
“We have an opportunity to step forward and take a vote that would help to get this off the ground. I will vote in favor of this construction design agreement because it could be the largest construction project in the city’s history awarded to a Black-owned business in and from St. Petersburg. That is progress,” Gabbard said. “I’ve heard the concerns that it’s always the same voices around the table. Maybe it’s always the same voices around the table because we haven’t built the table big enough. We haven’t got it to a point where there can be more voices yet. But that’s what equity and inclusion will bring.”
Council members voted six-to-two to approve the contract with Horus, with Blackmon and Council Chair Ed Montanari voting no on the deal. The council separately voted five-to-three in favor of an agreement of cooperation between the city and the Sankofa Vision Group, with Blackmon, Montanari and Council member Gina Driscoll casting dissenting votes