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New Partnerships Announced In Lower Hill Development 

Image courtesy of LaQuatra Bonci Associates
A rendering of the the I-579 CAP Park, still under construction, that will help physically reconnect the Lower Hill and Downtown.

The lead commercial developer on Pittsburgh's Lower Hill, Buccini/Pollin Group, announced new partners on Thursday.Local businesses and individuals will lead aspects of the 28-acre site’s development, including project management, community engagement to architectural design work. The move is meant to build stronger links with the greater Hill District community as well as meet the requirements of an agreement signed in 2014 called the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan, or CCIP.

The announcement comes as Buccini/Pollin Group gears up for a spring 2021 groundbreaking on a major project, First National Bank’s 26-story office and retail tower.

City Councilor Daniel Lavelle said it feels like the redevelopment of the Lower Hill is finally going to happen. 

“And beyond that, what’s exciting for me is that they’re committed to doing it in what is now shaping up to be an equitable way,” he said.

According to a release from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, partners include Dr. Kimberly Ellis, a Hill District historian who will ensure “the development provides an inclusive, welcoming public open space” and Lakeisha Byrd, an architectural design consultant who will work with the site’s architect to connect the site and the neighborhood. Dorin Dickerson will be Director of Project Management, while Monaloh Basin Engineers, a woman-owned firm in Pittsburgh, will conduct a site survey. AWK Consulting Engineers, a minority-owned firm in Turtle Creek, will provide geotechnical evaluation and design work. E. Holdings will work to bring more local businesses and residents into what is expected to be a decade-long buildout of the site.

Irving Williams is president and CEO of E. Holdings. He is a long-time resident of the Hill District and said he is excited for his neighborhood and the region.

“All of us get an opportunity to benefit from the enhanced measures that the real estate development will bring,” he said. “Primarily the jobs, and the opportunity for the African American community to start to gain potential wealth as this development moves forward.”

Janai Williams Smith is executive vice president of E Holdings. She said people are sensitive to what happens in the Hill District because of its history. In the 1950s city officials leveled 100 acres of the Lower Hill as part of its urban renewal strategy. Its destruction tore apart the neighborhood and its thriving Black community.

“There’s a lot of value in figuring out how to [connect] people to space in a restorative way,” said Williams Smith. “We hope our contributions to this project will help in that restoration, and in fact, we’re only interested in contributing if we are able to help in that restoration.”

The Maryland-based Buccini/Pollin Group also announced it will open an office in Pittsburgh, and local developer Bomani Howze will join BPG as a vice president.

Howze said Buccini/Pollin has worked to get to know the neighborhood, and go directly to local business owners for pre-development work on the Lower Hill. He said he is eager to carry that work forward to build an economic bridge, as they finalize planning approvals and think about tenants.

“A lot of it has to do with … grassroots networking to make sure [business owners] are informed of the bidding process, informed of the various milestones in the development process, to get involved in the early stages,” he said.

Howze said part of his work will be to help smaller businesses build capacity so they can be part of the $1 billion development of the Lower Hill. He believes it will be catalytic, and can help address power structures that have traditionally cut out Black business owners.

Marimba Milliones leads the Hill Community Development Corporation. In an email she wrote that Thursday’s announcement shows that Buccini/Pollin Group and the Penguins take the 2014  Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan seriously. However, substantive issues about exactly how the promises of that plan will be fulfilled remain.

“Hopefully new team members will be able to urge the Pens and BPG to respond to the matters before them so that the development can proceed,” she said.