Black Enterprise CEO Butch Graves came to Charlotte on Thursday to tout his company’s annual entrepreneurs summit coming here later this year. At the event, he pointed to the involvement of a national real estate developer in the Brooklyn Village makeover uptown as an example of recognizing and reviving African-American business influence.

Don Peebles, CEO of The Peebles Corp., was described by Graves as the most successful black real estate developer in the country. Peebles’ $5 billion portfolio includes large-scale hotels, apartment and condominium towers and other developments in Washington, Miami and Los Angeles.

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Earl "Butch" Graves is CEO of Black Enterprise.

The Miami-based real estate firm is one of three developers hired by Mecklenburg County to convert 17 acres in Second Ward into a mixed-use project. It will encompass 1,000 residential units, 170 condominiums, 680,000 square feet of offices, 250,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, two hotels and a 1.9-acre public park. Peebles Corp., along with Conformity Corp. and Stantec, have formed an entity called BK Partners for the redevelopment.

Peebles, who has called economic opportunity and affordable housing key aspects of making Brooklyn Village a success, will be in Charlotte to speak about the uptown project and other topics as part of the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit at the convention center. The summit starts June 6 and ends June 9. A total of 1,200 entrepreneurs, CEOs, venture capitalists and other influencers will participate in the annual conference.

Black Enterprise and city government estimate the event will add $4 million to the local economy.

“Don Peebles, who’s a personal friend of mine … is coming to build here at Brooklyn Village, or bring back, if you will, what was a black-owned area,” Graves said, referring to the urban renewal projects that destroyed the African-American Brooklyn neighborhood in Second Ward during the 1960s. “I know you will hold him accountable and make sure that black-owned businesses are a part of that build-out. So I really do look forward to that and I applaud you again for making sure — the county as well — for making sure black folks here get a chance to participate.”

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This rendering shows BK Partners’ vision for Brooklyn Village.

Ella Scarborough, a Democrat who is head of the county commissioners board, and her vice chair, Jim Puckett, both attended the summit kickoff event held at the Knight Theater on Thursday afternoon.

Mayor Vi Lyles, who happens to be the first female African-American to lead the city, pointed out the summit will include a Charlotte-centric session giving local entrepreneurs a chance to meet with public and private sector decision-makers to learn about diversity vendor programs and guidelines.

Such issues have become more prominent politically with an ongoing analysis of vendor diversity within city government and broader concerns raised about worker training, economic mobility and affordable housing for blacks and other minorities after uptown protests and riots erupted uptown in 2016.

“So the summit is designed not to be an end, but be the beginning for the advancements that our city can make in minority businesses,” Lyles said.

Graves agreed, pointing the local portion of the summit as an important new wrinkle.

“Oftentimes, the thing we hear is, ‘Yeah, you bring these people in to talk about opportunities, but you never talk about opportunities in the city or the county with the local businesses (in the host city),” he said. “And we’ve carved out specifically a session to make sure that the people who are living here, who pay taxes here, are being given the opportunity to do business with these respective companies.”

Local ties big and small emerged during the preview presentation on Thursday. Charlotte-based online delivery company Day Runner is one of the sponsors, as is Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), which is based in San Francisco, but remains one of Charlotte’s largest employers with its East Coast hub here.

Regina Heyward, senior vice president at Wells Fargo in charge of supplier diversity, told reporters and other attendees on Thursday the bank has set a goal of devoting 15% of its procurement spending to minority- and women-owned companies by 2020. In 2017, Wells Fargo’s diverse vendor spending was $1.27 billion. The bank also commits $1 million annually to nurturing minority entrepreneurs through programs with colleges and universities across the country, including North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, she said.

While summit organizers applauded the bank and other sponsors for such efforts, there are often several sides to such stories. Wells Fargo, according to CBJ’s sister paper, the Sacramento Business Journal, has engaged in a pattern of making more expensive home loans to African-American and Latino customers. The city of Sacramento this year sued Wells Fargo over the alleged discrepancies and discrimination in loan terms dating back to 2004.

At a more grassroots level, the summit in Charlotte will tie in with the Black Business Owners of Charlotte, whose participation will include a Black Food Truck event on June 9 outside the convention center near the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

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