CLEVELAND — While Sherwin-Williams continues to move ahead on its plans to build a new global headquarters in downtown Cleveland, a civil rights group is calling on elected leaders to block funding on the project.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference held a demonstration outside Sherwin-Williams' current headquarters on Prospect Avenue on Thursday afternoon. SCLC is calling on elected officials to block the $300 million in city, county, state and federal incentives and tax breaks that are being earmarked for the 36-story office tower that will be located in downtown and a research and development center in Brecksville.
The group says they will continue to protest until Sherwin-Williams "honors its commitment to name a Black-owned firm as a key partner" in the company's $600 million "Building Our Future" projects.
"We must win this fight for economic resources to come into the African American community,” SCLC President Rev. E.T. Caviness said in a statement. “If we do not say right now that enough is enough, additional corporations and ventures will do the same thing to us in our community. We will not accept crumbs. You are not going to use our tax dollars and exclude us from the top positions of the many multi-million-dollar projects that are being done and those to come.”
Sherwin-Williams responded to the protest with the following statement from Julie S. Young, Vice President of Global Corporate Communications:
"These protests are not helpful to the diverse communities they claim to support. As Sherwin-Williams has and continues to engage minority contractors for a wide range of roles on this construction project, it is surprising that the protestors are complaining about a process that has resulted in the engagement of a stellar group of minority contractors, who have collectively been awarded contracts valued in the millions of dollars. Instead of applauding these successful minority contractors, the protests appear to be aimed at furthering the baseless claims of a disgruntled firm that did not get the contract they wanted. We will not let these protests undermine the efforts of all other minority contractors who seek to become part of this project. The results speak for themselves, with a powerful slate of Northeast Ohio minority-owned, women-owned and small businesses already on board. As this project continues, there will be more opportunities for minority contractors. Our process is creating opportunity for many, and we will continue to do what is right as we have since our founding more than 155 years ago."
Earlier this month, Sherwin-Williams announced that five minority-owned construction management companies had joined its "Building our Future" project. Young would not confirm the values of those contracts, saying they have not been publicly disclosed.
The companies listed below will provide construction management services, including providing skilled trained workers, for the new downtown global headquarters and the new R&D Center in Brecksville. Those employed will handle tasks such as carpentry, millwork and painting.
- Adrian Maldonado & Associates
- The AKA Team
- Ozanne Construction Company, Inc.
- R. L. Hill Management Services, Inc.
- Regency Construction Services, Inc.
Despite Sherwin-Williams' announcement, Caviness and the SCLC believes the effort falls short of what they believe was a commitment for a Black-owned firm to join the team of nine key partners announced last year. "That is an insult in a city that is 51 percent African American," Caviness says.
The SCLC says The Black Contractors Group had been meeting with Sherwin-Williams for nearly a year and both sides had identified a Black-owned firm that met qualifications.
Dr. Caviness says Sherwin-Williams walked away from those negotiations. "They broke our negotiation. We want to get back to the table. We want to discuss with and work with them. Not against them. We are all together in this town. We want this town to be great. We want them to stay. We want them to do everything that they're doing, but include us."
"We're not going away," he told 3News Sara Shookman. "We're going to be here until the end, until they sit down and equitably understand that we should be included in this situation, we're going to be protesting."
However, Sherwin-Williams says that no special agreement was made between themselves and the Black Contractors Group. "The goal has always been to identify firms qualified to provide the necessary services and willing to be positive and productive partners on the project. We will not allow any one organization to dictate the specific firms that receive contracts on our project, nor will we respond to the tactics of any outside organization seeking to influence our process through threats or intimidation. Sherwin-Williams remains focused on engaging the most qualified firms on our project, regardless of personal, family or political connections," the company said in a statement.
The company is directing minority contractors who want to get involved with the Building Our Future project to register using an online form. Sherwin-Williams will seek final design approval from the City of Cleveland in November.
You can read Sherwin Williams' entire statement below: