The goal was lofty: Summit Academy, a Minneapolis-based job training center, would lead a coalition that would recruit and train as many as 600 minorities to help build the $1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium.
With the stadium 40 percent complete, and nearly 2,500 workers employed, the goal of having minorities comprise 32 percent of the workforce is being met — just not with much help from Summit Academy.
So far, of the more than 800 minorities who have worked on the stadium, just 48 trained workers have been hired through Summit Academy.
Led by its outspoken and politically connected president, Louis King II, the nonprofit was given a contract in 2013 that would pay it as much as $700,000. The agreement — Summit Academy initially wanted as much as $2.7 million — was hailed as a groundbreaking way to ensure that not only the stadium but future large-scale building efforts in Minnesota met ambitious minority-hiring goals.
Summit Academy, the only bidder for a contract that called for paying a unit price for each job placement, has so far received $276,000.
"It's a pay-for-performance contract. They don't just send money over here," said King, who said Summit Academy also provided sophisticated forecasting to predict minority hiring needs for the Vikings stadium. "This is an insurance policy" to make sure minority hiring goals are met, he said.
"I got them to invest in putting people in the jobs so they wouldn't be hanging out on corners and toting pistols, [with] our women and children on welfare," said King, who is black.
Every time Minnesota has built a large stadium in the past decade, Summit Academy has been involved. Summit Academy was paid $300,000 to help with minority hiring at the Minnesota Twins' Target Field, and produced 35 hires on a project that at its peak featured 1,000 construction workers on the job daily.
Summit Academy was likewise involved with the building of TCF Bank Stadium, the University of Minnesota's football field, and provided roughly 25 minority hires to help the project exceed a 30 percent minority workforce goal.
'Looks like United Nations'
Officials with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and Mortenson Construction, the principal contractor on the Vikings stadium, both supported Summit Academy's hiring but said Mortenson and the union leaders have on their own done a good job getting minority workers. "It looks like the United Nations," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, the chair of the Sports Facilities Authority, the public body overseeing construction.
Of the 2,489 workers on the project through the end of February, 811 have been minorities.
Mortenson officials declined to answer why Summit Academy, given its performance, continues to be hired for stadium projects. One company that was supposed to partner with Summit Academy on the Vikings stadium, Azule Staffing of Eagan, said it backed out because it was "a lot of fluff" and that the project was seen as "a joke because people were not getting hired" at the stadium.
Stadium officials defended the arrangement. "Everyone had these grandiose ideas we were going to need 500, 600, 700 people to come brand-new to this project," said Alex Tittle, the Vikings stadium equity director. Tittle, a former education director at Summit Academy, now works for the Sports Facilities Authority and oversees Summit Academy's role with the project. "We realized that we didn't need that many," Tittle explained.
While the Vikings stadium is expected to reach a peak of 1,200 workers daily this summer, Tittle and others said Summit Academy is unlikely to earn the full $700,000.
John Wood, a senior vice president for Mortenson, said in a statement that the need for Summit Academy on the Vikings stadium "has not been as great as expected." Mortenson, in addition to the Vikings stadium, was the principal construction company for both Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium and has worked closely with Summit Academy on all three stadium projects.
Mortenson also recently contributed $100,000 to Summit Academy to train workers on other local projects.
The arrangement has put a spotlight on the nonprofit and King, who in 2013 earned $206,000 in salary and bonuses at Summit Academy and was provided with a $5,000 membership at the exclusive Minneapolis Club. King also serves on the boards of St. Thomas Academy and Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children.
"Before we put these things into place, it was acceptable for African Americans [not] to be included," he said. King also said that paying Summit Academy more than $275,000 to produce 48 construction workers was a "very good deal" for the Sports Facilities Authority. "It's a pittance," King said.
One critic is Todd Schuler, the director of business development for Azule Staffing. Schuler said he became a skeptic of the initiative because there were no guarantees any minorities the staffing agency sent for training would get jobs at the Vikings stadium. He also said Mortenson already seemed to be meeting the minority hiring goals.
He said Summit Academy and others "just sat back with their hand out."
Ron Edwards, a longtime African-American civil rights advocate in Minneapolis, said he too was skeptical of how much Summit Academy was helping minorities to get jobs at the Vikings stadium. "The only [job] projections they did was go and have lunch with Alex Tittle," he said. The contract, added Edwards, was a "good bargain" for King, and not necessarily taxpayers.
Kelm-Helgen said the "genesis" for inserting language into the stadium legislation that led to the hiring of Summit Academy came from Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, who was then serving in the House. "Everyone thought it was a really good idea," said Kelm-Helgen, who was a key member of Gov. Mark Dayton's staff when the Vikings stadium legislation was passed in 2012.
Champion, one of two African-Americans in the state Senate, initially agreed to be interviewed about Summit Academy and his role in its hiring, but said he had to be "in a good frame of mind." He later declined to comment, and referred questions to Kelm-Helgen.
"I did expect demand for workers from [Summit Academy] to be higher," said Maura Brown of Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, which has assisted Summit Academy to help eliminate racial disparities. "And I can't say with certainty why it hasn't been."