Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Member Spotlight: Alexis McSween leads her firm Bottom Line Construction & Development, LLC with Grit & Grace

Alexis McSween, founder and CEO of Bottom Line Construction & Development, LLC 

Alexis McSween has under her belt eighteen years of practical and formal experience in construction and real estate development. As the founder and CEO of the New York-based Bottom Line Construction & Development, LLC (BLCD), she has worked on several permitted construction and development projects involving, design, renovations, structural work, carpentry, partitions, plumbing and electrical. BLCD is a fully licensed and insured firm, with offices in Harlem and Queens, and is also 100% woman-, LGBT- and minority-owned and operated. Alexis prides herself in being a community-oriented firm, promoting a company culture based on perseverance, teamwork, and successful collaborations in finding innovative ways to construct and develop properties throughout New York’s five boroughs. 

Among BLCD’s latest projects is Baldwin Park, a 10,000 square foot boutique condo in Harlem. The $7 million project is named after the acclaimed Harlem-born novelist James Baldwin, who happens to be Alexis’ favorite poet, author, and Black political activist. Another project BLCD currently is working on as tier one subcontractor is the redevelopment of Harlem's historical Victoria Theater into a 28 story, 300 feet building, making it the tallest building in Central Harlem. 

The $178 million two-winged project will house 211 rental apartments of which 50% will be affordable units, a 210-key Renaissance Marriott Hotel, 30,000 square feet of retail space, 25,000 square feet of art and cultural institution space, a 60-car garage, and two black box theaters of 199 and 99 seats that will be operated by the Apollo Theater Foundation. According to the New York Post, the tower will be the first hotel built in Harlem in nearly 85 years. BLCD was hired to handle several scopes of the interior finishes, a $6.5 million piece of the proverbial pie, which entails flooring, carpeting, tiling, leveling, cabinetry, granite countertops, and doors. “It's been a really exciting and challenging project,” which is 80% complete, says Alexis. 

Through a two-year entrepreneurship and leadership program by the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center, Alexis was nominated and awarded New York State’s 2020 Female Entrepreneur of the Year. She was recognized for her decades-long crusade in community building and development. Since 1994, she has developed and renovated several projects ranging from $500,000 to $7 million. 

Alexis is driven in part by her own experienced bouts of homelessness as a teenager growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, New York. She had a difficult relationship with her mother, who struggled with substance abuse, which led to Alexis to leave home in pursuit of emancipation and a more stable environment. “I was on my own without a diploma and limited job opportunities,” she says. After taking her High School equivalency during her sophomore year, she immediately joined the NYC Fire Department’s EMT Cadet program and graduated 10 months later. “From there,” she adds, “I went on to dispatch and participated in the city’s forgivable loan program to become a Registered Nurse in 1994.” She worked as an RN at White Plains Medical Center during nights and traveled back to Queens to work as an EMT during the days. Eventually, she received an opportunity to work for North Shore University Hospital where she spent 12 years as a cardiothoracic nurse. 

Alexis' passion for real estate also began in 1994, following the complete gut and rehabilitation of a multi-family home in Springfield Gardens, Queens that she purchased at 24 years-old. Using the State of New York Mortgage Agency’s first-time homebuyer program, she was able to purchase her first house, however, she still faced costly renovations. So, she took advantage of Mayor Koch’s plan expanded by then-Mayor David Dinkins. Homeless families were relocated to privately owned apartments under the Emergency Assistance Rehousing Program (EARP), which paid landlords rent and gave them other substantial incentives to accept formerly displaced tenants. 

“I could definitely relate to being homeless,” says Alexis. “I interviewed dozens and picked two families. I renovated that entire building and made it ready for them to move in.” What’s more, she built a new basement apartment for herself with the expanded voucher funds. “The two families stayed with me for about 15 years. From there I went on to tackle other projects in the community while working as a nurse. I renovated properties, invested in both commercial and residential properties, purchased real estate, and satisfied my passion for providing housing in my community and other communities that looked like mine,” adds Alexis, who notes she still has the first commercial office/retail building she constructed from the ground up in 2002. 

Having gained plenty of hands-on experience, she decided it was time to get some formal training to make an even larger impact. She completed her bachelor’s degree at NYACK College in organizational management in 2007. When the recession of 2008 hit, it changed the trajectory of her work, leading her to formally establish BLCD as an enterprise in 2010. That same year she completed her Master of Science degree in Real Estate Development with a minor in Construction Management from NYU’s Shack Real Estate Institute. While earning her Masters, she also worked as a project manager for a NYC Women Business Enterprise (WBE) construction & management firm on public and private projects. 

“I realized between completing my own projects and working for a general contractor in Manhattan, that there was a tremendous opportunity to get certified and to actually provide a living wage for people in my community,” says Alexis. In 2011, BLCD achieved its Minority/Women Business Enterprise (M/WBE) certification and its New York State certification in 2012, which improved the company’s participation on city and government construction projects. “We're certified with the school construction authority and we're certified with the MTA,” she adds. “Being certified doesn’t guarantee you’ll get projects or even a seat at the table, but it gets your foot in the door. You're in a much better position than someone who's not certified.” 

BLCD also strives to work with other minority-owned businesses. “We have a really good utilization rate with our minority subcontractors,” Alexis says. “We're (roughly) at 60% utilization on MBEs.” Additionally, BLCD became a certified LGBT Business Enterprise this year but she notes that with COVID-19 pandemic BLCD has yet to tap into the treasure chest of corporate procurement opportunities through NGLCC. 

Alexis acknowledges she still faces challenges being an African American woman in a male-dominated industry. Whenever she walks into a room, shows up on a site, attends meetings or engages clients, people are going to test her. She has to prove herself. It is the age-old expression of having to be twice as smart, twice as good. 

Looking to pay it forward, this past July BLCD kicked off its Youth Construct program for minority, economically disadvantaged youth in New York. The goal is to create a community for 11th and 12th grade students where they can gain construction administration skills needed to succeed now and in the future. 

Alexis points out that currently there are certificates, undergraduate and graduate opportunities for adults, construction trade concentrations in the High Schools, but not enough access to the lucrative industry of construction administration. To the contrary, BLCD’s Youth Construct program will expose teens (through internships and externships) to the actual administration side of the industry and fields such as construction, office management, office engineering, project management, project associate, assistant project manager, and expediting. 

Local high school students can apply to Youth Construct through their career counselors. Outreach to LGBTQ+ youth will include going through such organizations as The Door, of which Alexis notes she is a product of the program. The Door provides a wide range of services to meet the needs of New York City youth ages 12-24. 

BLCD is running a crowdfunding campaign that will end in December 2020. Each student is costing about $5,500 and the program is about seven months. So far $12,000 has been pledged with a target goal of $50,000. To find out more about BLCD’s Youth Construct Program and support, click here. 

“I am just trying to put myself out there so that people know who we are and that they get involved,” Alexis says. 

Written by Carolyn M. Brown, a journalist, author, playwright, producer, and founder of True Colors Project, a social enterprise that produces LGBTQIAGNC+ themed content via theater, film, digital platforms, and events, which includes My True Colors Excel Pride Awards and My True Colors Festival: Fighting For Social Justice and Cultural Diversity Through The Arts, She is a member of the nglccNY Media and Communications Committee. @cmbrown_7

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