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NFL great Bruce Smith calls for racial disparity study, pledges to pay for half of it

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- An NFL Hall of Fame football player is raising questions as to whether the City of Virginia Beach racially discriminated against him.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- An NFL Hall of Fame football player is questioning whether the City of Virginia Beach discriminated against him.

At a news conference Monday, Bruce Smith made it clear that his letter to city leaders was not meant to accuse them of racial discrimination, but simply to raise questions about race, cronyism, and favoritism in Virginia Beach.

Smith said he has made multiple attempts to do business as a real estate developer along the Oceanfront, but city leaders have never given him the green light. He's demanding the City conduct a racial disparity study to ensure that minority business owners are being given equal and unbiased opportunities.

Last week, Mayor Will Sessoms said he won't pursue a racial disparity study. He wants to spend the money on the city's minority procurement program, and he wants to continue to build relationships with minority business owners. He says the city has been reaching out to minority contractors, pointing to the fact that minority business expenditures increased by 23 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Smith noted minority expenditures make up less than 1 percent of the city's total budget, a figure the he said is absolutely egregious.

At his news conference, Smith announced that he and a group of other business leaders agreed to pay for half of the racial disparity study, which he urged the mayor to pursue. A spokesman for the city told 13News Now a racial disparity study could cost between $300,000 to $1,000,000.

Smith said the Virginia Beach rejected a number of his projects, including a Margaritaville restaurant he wanted to build off Rudee Loop at the Oceanfront.

"My conclusion is they're trying to save this site for their favorite developer," Smith said.

Smith added that Councilman John Uhrin shot down another proposal to build an ESPN Zone at the old Dome site at 19th Street and Pacific Avenue.

"In 2007, when I submitted a proposal, I worked on that proposal for two years trying to put that together. John Uhrin killed it. His exact words: 'We don't want a cookie-cutter project, and we don't want a chain restaurant.' There are cities all around the country that would love to have an ESPN Zone, but yet John Uhrin called it a chain restaurant," Smith said.

Uhrin told 13News Now he is perplexed by Smith's claims, stating that Smith and developer Armada Hoffler were awarded a proposal for the Hyatt Hotel at the Oceanfront.

Smith said he was merely an investor in that project, and that it's time the city lets a minority be the lead developer.

"An investor is typically silent and that's the way they would like to keep it. I am seeking to be a developer where I have a voice, where I can be heard," Smith stated.

Bruce Smith's letter to Virginia Beach Mayor Sessoms

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