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Pittsburgh’s URA approved several key initiatives in its last meeting of the year

The URA board moved forward the first phase of Millcraft's Esplanade development on the North Side.

The board of Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority ended its year by approving two major developments, along with offering support for homeowners affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and further funding for “Avenues of Hope,” an initiative to boost commercial corridors in historically Black neighborhoods.

The New Granada Square redevelopment, led by the Hill Community Development Corporation, is set to begin its final phase. The $22.4 million commercial portion of the project will include office space, the University of Pittsburgh’s Community Engagement Center, restaurant or cafe space, and a rooftop reception area.

The New Granada project is “central to the Hill District’s business district, cultural district, and the future of our neighborhood,” said Marimba Milliones, executive director of the Hill CDC. “It is the largest commercial redevelopment that has happened in the Hill District in decades.”

Irvin Henderson, part of the development team, said the New Granada project is an example to other neighborhood groups across the country: “how communities can grapple with their own problems, provide solutions … and move from A to Z to make these projects work.”

URA board member and City Councilor Daniel Lavelle pointed out the project’s high levels of participation by minority- and women-owned businesses. The Hill CDC worked hard to achieve those numbers, he said, and the result shows “it can be done when you have an owner, a developer, who is willing … to ensure we are investing in our minority community and making them a part of our larger economy.”

Lavelle said he has begun to have conversations with the city’s Department of City Planning to see if it’s possible to tie MWBE participation to developer incentives.

On the North Side, development firm Millcraft is set to transform nearly six acres of Ohio River waterfront in the Chateau and Manchester neighborhoods, remaking them into the $475 million Esplanade development. Plans for the first phase call for market-rate and affordable housing, commercial space, a marina, and a Ferris wheel.

“It’s been a rather long journey, but it’s got really lofty goals … to help be transformational and inclusive for everyone,” Millcraft’s Jim Holcomb said.

After the URA approved an options agreement on the land in 2020, the agency and the developer had numerous meetings with the Manchester Citizens Corporation. The MCC’s executive director, LaShawn Burton-Faulk, supports the project, but says there’s work still to be done.

Lavelle echoed that sentiment, promising many more conversations about the project “to ensure that this development does actually connect Manchester and Chateau and that this is to the explicit benefit of that community,” he said.

MCC is pursuing a community benefits agreement, which would assure the surrounding neighborhood reaps some of the economic windfall from the development, with Millcraft.

The URA also approved a new program for the Avenues of Hope initiative. The facade program will provide up to $12,000 for business owners to fix up building exteriors and some portion of the interiors. Up to 50% of the money can be used to make buildings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition, the board greenlighted using $50,000 of the Housing Opportunity Fund to leverage what could be more than $2 million — there is pending request with the state’s housing agency — to help homeowners who fell behind in payments due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nonprofit Action Housing will administer the program.