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Magic Johnson Talks Food Entrepreneurship to Comal Crew

The Hispanic women who work at the heritage food incubator got a serious pep talk from the basketball legend

Andra Zeppelin

"Be great at it, you gotta be great at it," Magic Johnson told a group of women who are training to open their own businesses at Comala heritage food incubator in RiNo. "There is plenty of opportunity [...] but we need you to be great. The food: great. The food: on time. The food: fresh," Johnson continued and shared his personal story of how he got into business and how he amassed a wide-variety of restaurant franchises and other food-related businesses, including some in Denver.

The retired basketball player has been to the Mile High City multiple times in the last few months, as part of a team led by Spanish company Ferrovial Airports who is attempting to redevelop the Jeppesen Terminal at the Denver International Airport (DIA). The airport selected the consortium led by Ferrovial to enter into exclusive negotiations for a public-private partnership (P3) to reimagine the terminal now referred to as the Great Hall.

In August, Denver City Council approved a nine-million dollar contract contract with this team for the pre-development phase of work. For the next few months, additional negotiations are taking place to further refine the scope of work, design, financial terms and schedule for a potential long-term P3. When the pre-development phase comes to a close, the airport and city will make a decision whether to proceed.

What does that have to do with Magic Johnson speaking at Comal? If the contract is awarded, the group will control the concessions inside the 1.5 million square foot Great Hall for a long time, 20 to 30 years, depending on the terms of the final agreement. Many of those concessions will involve food and Johnson, who is a special advisor on the project, has made a strong commitment to include women and minority-owned firms and businesses and to mentor some of these organizations and help them to thrive.

Much of the discussion that took place at Comal was around mentorship. "I always wanted to be a business man but I didn't have those types of skills. So I went to my own Comal and that was asking a lot of business owners if they would sit down with me. They started giving me tips on what I should do, how I should get started," Johnson shared with the women who got to ask questions and share their stories.You can watch the complete video on the Eater Denver Facebook page, also linked at the end of this article.

The push to get the massive contract at DIA isn't all inspiration, rainbows and unicorns. During, prior, and after the August approval of the pre-development contract, city council members and workers union representatives questioned a variety of issues including the breath of meaningful contract participation by minority- and women-owned firms, certain dealings of Ferrovial including a bribery scandal in Spain plus some bankruptcy history, and the fact that such a lengthy contract ties the hands of future mayors and city councils.

The goal for the transformation of the Jeppesen Terminal, which includes passenger ticketing, baggage claim, ground transportation, international arrivals, shops and restaurants, office areas and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) security checkpoints, is to modernize this part of the airport. Three main areas of improvement are targeted: consolidating the airline ticket counters and consolidating and relocating the TSA screening areas to level 6; modifying the baggage handling system in and under the terminal to support the relocated ticket counters; and redesigning the shopping, dining and overall passenger experiences available in the terminal. Because of the high cost of such a project, the P3 model was chosen as the preferred avenue. If things move forward, DIA will have a new look in the Great Hall by 2019.

Disclosure: The editor is married to one of the developers behind Taxi, the development in which Comal resides.