Some Southeast Raleigh residents say city leaders haven’t asked for their input and haven’t been transparent in efforts to restart a business incubator that was closed amid accusations of fraud and mismanagement.
At a meeting at Chavis Community Center on Monday, residents and business owners criticized the city for denying two proposals from outside groups that wanted to run the Raleigh Business and Technology Center, which was created in 2000 to spur economic development in the southeastern part of the city.
“We don’t trust the city for reasons like this,” said Danny Coleman, chairman of the South Central Citizens Advisory Council. “Decisions are being made without community input.”
Private organizations formed the incubator, which received funding from the city and operated rent-free in a building on South Wilmington Street to provide space and mentoring to small businesses.
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After an audit in 2013 found evidence of mismanagement and fraud at the center, it might be best for the city take a stronger leadership role, said Assistant City Manager Marchell Adams David.
Lawrence Wray, a former assistant city manager and board member of the incubator, was arrested last year on charges of embezzlement and obtaining property by false pretense from the incubator. His trial has not been scheduled.
After the audit, the city retracted its funding to the incubator, which topped out at $162,000 a year.
Raleigh leaders have promised to reopen the incubator in some capacity and accepted two proposals late last year. Those proposals were denied because they weren’t in line with the city’s vision and the groups didn’t have experience managing an incubator, Adams David said.
The City Council will ultimately decide how to proceed with the process, which could include revising the proposals already received, making an entirely new request or revising the current request.
“We’re going to make this happen if it’s the last thing I do,” Adams David said.
Representatives from some of the organizations that proposed to take over the incubator said the city was never clear about what it would like to see for the future of the center.
One of the proposals came from a joint effort of the Raleigh Area Development Authority, Shaw University, HQ Raleigh, The Support Center, American Underground, Triangle Family Services and Venture Management.
The group suggested it could offer a wide range of services to future incubator tenants, including education, training and financial assistance. The space could also be used by outside community groups to participate in certification courses and other events, the proposal said.
The second proposal came from former state senator Larry Shaw.
“I don’t think the city can articulate what that vision is,” said Wallace Green, a member of the board of directors at the Raleigh Area Development Authority.
John Miller, chairman of the board of directors at the Raleigh Area Development Authority, said the city’s reasoning didn’t make sense. Two of the partners included in his organization’s proposal – American Underground and HQ Raleigh – are successful, award-winning incubators.