Lower Hill Redevelopment Kicks Off Pittsburgh Public Schools Partnership Career Technical Education Program with "Career Exploration Day"
Thursday April 28th, 2022 the Lower Hill Redevelopment Team kicked off a partnership with Pittsburgh Public School's Career Technical Education program at PPG Paints Arena (Pittsburgh's Lower Hill District) with a behind-the-scenes look at the arena and career opportunities / pathways as part of the Lower Hill Redevelopment. Student's from schools - Allderdice, Milliones, Westinghouse and Carrick, some of which had never been to the arena, were abuzz as they filed into the Highmark entrance and were greeted by members of the development team before receiving their VIP credentials. Following introductions by Penguin's COO and general counsel, Kevin Acklin, BPG's VP of Development, Bomani M. Howze, BPG's Director of Community, Arts and Culture, Dr. Kimberly Ellis and CTE Executive Director, Angela Mike the student's dispersed for career-path "walk and talks", informational guided tours from executives working in collaboration on the Lower Hill Redevelopment project. Student's from all schools - Carpentry, Engineering, Entertainment Technology, Finance, RHVAC and Business regrouped at the FNB Club landing to hear concluding key speakers Chris Buccini, Co-President of the Buccini/Pollin Group (LHR master developer) and David Morehouse, long time CEO of the Pittsburgh Penguins (LHR development project partner).
Stay tuned for more pictures from the event as well as programming updates in this ongoing partnership!
If you are interested in getting involved with the CTE Program, contact the Lower Hill Redevelopment by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rochelle "Missy" Johnson, has been welding since the age of 14, and was the first female minority to enroll at her vocational school graduating at the top of her class.
Back in March of 2021, she ran a small local firm and was signed only as a Millwrights Union company. Through discussions with PJ Dick, she was encouraged to talk to other unions and to utilize the log of the non-minority companies that was developed through bidding for the FNB Financial Center, for her own outreach and development of relationships
Throughout the balance of 2021, Missy signed on with six (6) other unions and joined the NMAPC, which allows her to work anywhere in the country, pulling in union workers in the trades she needs. She has been afforded opportunities locally and in Philadelphia and has even turned down some work (in cases that builders or larger contractors wanted to just use her company as a Broker and not let her firm self perform work).
DiVerse Industrial Solutions has secured a contract commitment in the field of Miscellaneous Metals as part of the final buyout for FNB Financial Center and her story is truly amazing. This brief glimpse into her past highlights her path to where she is now, 36 years later.
How does your background in construction tie into what you're currently doing with the project?
During my 25 years in Mobile Maintenance, I had the ability to work in many different fashions from boiler work to structural steel and many things in between. I can remember building platforms, setting grading, doing handrail and kickplate. All of these things now tie into the package that my company has received at the Lower Hill.
How has your role evolved working on the Lower Hill Redevelopment project?
There are 2 development projects for me at the Lower Hill. The first project is developing DiVerse Industrial Solutions as a competitive company for the future. The second project is to obtain work at the FNB. I found them both at the Lower Hill. In working with the people on that project, it opened up avenues and suggestions to be able to do both. They not only gave me an opportunity for work, they gave me pathways to build my company outside of this project for the future.
What do you like most about what you do?
The people. All the people come from different walks of life to participate in the end goal of finishing whatever project they are encountering. They bring their highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses. You find encouragement from them and give back encouragement. When it is all finished, you and a bunch of strangers are no longer strangers having achieved a common goal of a job well done.
Do you have a mentor or advisor that has helped you along the way? (Personally, or professionally) Alternatively, do you do any kind of mentoring, coaching or teaching? I have had many mentors along the way both personally and professionally. One that stands out specifically, was a man of little words but his actions spoke volumes to me. He was always proud of who he was in every job he laid his hands on. He did not care if he fit in. He only cared about the pride he carried home at the end of the day by doing the best that he could with what he had. I try to use what I learned in life to mentor and guide people. Life is hard. If it wasn’t for the people who helped me, I would not have the will or determination to do what I do today. I give back in the same way it was given to me. Somebody gave me a job; I want to give a job. Someone gave me encouragement; I want to give encouragement.
Do you have any words of encouragement for other women currently in or considering entering the construction field? Welding field? Whatever you do, don’t quit. Fight until you get it right. Every step you take in life, God is preparing you for another level.
Find out more about DiVerse Industrial Solutions here
To learn about contracting opportunities with the Lower Hill Redevelopment visit the First Source Center
Hosting community members in the Lower Hill Suite at PPG Arena has been a fantastic affair, led primarily by Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis, Buccini/Pollin Group’s Director of Community, Arts and Culture.
“It’s such a pleasure to give people the opportunity to be spoiled and catered to while in the suite,” Dr. Ellis said, “They really feel special and appreciated.”
Her journey began by being treated, herself, in the Mario Lemieux suite, for her birthday in October and for which she is still grateful to Kevin Acklin, especially. She then began activating the Lower Hill Suite for ticket giveaway winners on social media and experiencing her first, ever, hockey game.
“I’ve lived in the Hill my whole life and have never been to a hockey game,” she said, shaking her head, “and it’s been the same for my brother, Paul, who is now a major hockey fan.”
Next, were the Harlem Globetrotters, more hockey games, Simone Biles, Disney on Ice, more hockey and Justin Bieber! We have had a full “Making Black History” program (noted earlier), small business owners, our partners such as Tammy Thompson, head of Catapult, decorator and business owner, Montia Robinson, head of DEI at Master Builder’s Association, Lance Harrell, owners of the Cameron Group, Francine and Kevin Cameron, and our own street team manager, consultant and business owner, Naomi Ritter, and her street team; and ticket winners for the various games and events!
On April 2, one day before Justin Bieber performed at the Grammy Awards, the First Source Center team took the chance to enjoy his fabulous band in concert. Jaden Smith opened for him and performed a variety of songs, including his smash hit, “Icon.” We were delighted to be able to treat Daniel Anderson, our iconic First Source Center hire, who now works at Rycon Construction, as well as Janise Zenmon, who works at PPG Paints Arena and was stationed at Burgatory before coming up to the Lower Hill Suite to enjoy the rest of the concert with her street team. Justin Bieber sang fan favorites such as “Lonely,” and four-time Grammy nominated, “Peaches.”
It was a fun night for all! “I really look forward to continuing to activate the Lower Hill Suite and bring together members of the community. It’s also my job, a pleasure and an honor to do so,” says Dr. Ellis. Would you like to have the Lower Hill Suite experience?
Stay tuned for more ticket winners from the First Source Center Job Fair and Open House and follow us on our social media, so you can be the next winner!
March 31, 2022 - Catapult’s “Gallery on Centre” had its ribbon cutting ceremony at the new location 1840 Centre Avenue in the Hill District neighborhood. The opening was made possible with a collaboration between the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and a 10 million dollar contribution by PNC Bank. The 1,422 square-foot space will house six businesses from the Catapult Hill District cohort, with shelf space available for future Hill cohort participants and graduates.
“This is an amazing opportunity for new entrepreneurs from the Hill District or those wanting to start a business in the Hill District," said Catapult Executive Director Tammy Thompson in the official press release. "Participants will get access to retail space to sell their products, technical assistance, and opportunities to participate in collaborative events. The URA was instrumental in helping us launch our Catapult: Startup to Storefront and Gallery on Penn programming in East Liberty, so now the opening of our second location in the Hill District is just very exciting. We hope that the residents of the Hill District will be proud to have our programming and these new businesses operating in their community.”
The beautiful event was introduced by the soon-departing URA Deputy Director, Dr. Diamonte Walker, who was followed by the host, newly appointed Executive Communications Strategist, Tanika Harris. The entrepreneur graduates of the program were all in attendance, with a speech by both Nikki’s Magic Wand creator, Nicole Narvaez Manns and Aquene Wise-Watkins of Royally Fit; and they were all present in celebration of their Director, Ms. Tammy Thompson, who has gone through an organizational name change, from “Circles” to “Catapult Greater Pittsburgh” and sought to honor Maelene Myers -Executive Director of East Liberty Development, Inc., who gave her the space to work on her “crazy” ideas, in East Liberty.
Catapult Greater Pittsburgh engages in emergency resource distribution, peer-to-peer support, wealth building, trauma-informed financial counseling, and policy advocacy to ensure systematically disenfranchised communities can meaningfully achieve economic justice and lead dignified and equitable lives.
Also in attendance for this festive event were elected officials State Senator Wayne Fontana, Mayor Ed Gainey, Chief of Staff, Jake Wheatley and City Councilman, Daniel Lavelle.
To support these entrepreneurs go online or stop in their store location!
To learn more about Catapult's programs, email: email@example.com
March 9, 2022 - Chef Cheyanne Bronzell of Phat Girlz a Cookin’, who is a current participant in the Catapult business accelerator program, “Startup to Storefront”, catered lunch for PJ Dick and other members of the Lower Hill Team. This was the first time Chef Cheyanne catered for the group and she came to impress. The menu was shrimp toast for appetizers, honey salmon, her award-winning greens (which we paired with vinegar and hot sauce), mac and cheese, cornbread and peach cobbler for dessert. It was delicious and we are sure Chef Cheyanne will be spreading her soul food around the Lower Hill, as she has done in the Middle, Upper Hill and all around the city.
Book Phat Girlz a Cookin here
Find more information about Catapult's programs here
On March 25, 2022 the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) announced that Deputy Executive Director Dr. Diamonte Walker will depart the organization in Spring 2022 for an opportunity in the private sector. We say thank you to Dr. Walker and celebrate her tireless contributions to the redevelopment of the Lower Hill District and vibrancy across the entire City.
We are saddened by her departure as we have enjoyed working with her and meeting the mutual goals of the city government and administration. Prior to her exit, she was interviewed by Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis, Director of Community, Arts and Culture for Buccini/Pollin Group.
How do you feel about the work you accomplished during your tenure as Deputy Director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority? I'm extremely proud of what we have achieved at the URA during my tenure. It's been such an honor to work on behalf of the City, and in partnership with the broader Pittsburgh community, to shift the organization's focus more toward inclusive and equitable economic development.
Where are you going next and what can we expect? I'm thrilled about the next chapter and to share that I am going to serve as the inaugural CEO of a new economic mobility platform designed to support income eligible adult learners with children achieve post-secondary degree attainment. My new focus will be working within higher education to address income stagnation issues as a part of a broader, inclusive prosperity strategy, as it relates to economic development here in the city. An official announcement will be released in a few weeks with more information.
What do you hope to see from the Lower Hill Redevelopment? I hope to see the Lower Hill emerge as a model of equitable community revitalization based on how much restorative benefit it returns to the greater Hill District. I often said no one project can solve all of what ails a neighborhood. However, it is also important to acknowledge that no other project is as significant to the Historic Hill District's history, or its destiny as the Lower Hill's redevelopment, and it must be regarded as such. There are economic, institutional, and human-centered implications which present a transformative opportunity to chart a new course for the neighborhood, while honoring and incorporating the people and practitioners who already present.
As a resident and stakeholder, I wholeheartedly believe a development of which we can all be proud is achievable, if all parties material to the Lower Hill's redevelopment uphold the CCIP Community Benefits Agreement, as a sacred social contract with the interests of Historic Hill District residents at its center.
Read more here
The Lower Hill Redevelopment's First Source Center hosted a remarkably successful Job Fair and Open House on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, at the Historic Hill House Association, 1835 Centre Ave., Pittsburgh PA. With over 25 stellar companies participating, 200 registrants, signups for career-creating trainings and some on the spot hires from Prestige Cleaning and Salem’s Market and Grill. With over 200 registrants in attendance there was a solid flow of job seekers and employers eager to participate in the event.
The energy was palpable, as WAMO broadcast live from the front of the Hill House Association with interviews and ads broadcast weeks in advance and during the day. Offering free, professional headshots from Rick on The Run Media was the hit of the day. Over 50 people took their free headshots.
Hill-based Finesse Group Communications (led by Naomi Ritter) helped build awareness and momentum by canvassing businesses, faith-based organizations, and even door-to-door flyer drop-offs to local residences. As the day heated up, employers were given a chance to speak about their companies, positions offered and a range of salaries. With goals of signing up 50 persons for various jobs, at least 10 trainings and 10 hires, the First Source Center Job Fair and Open House superseded expectations.
First Source Center operator, Hill-based Cameron Group, instituted the organization of the five hour event with refreshments provided by Salem’s Market Grill and only made possible by the generous sponsorship by First National Bank Corporation (FNB), who also participated in the fair.
Opening its doors in June 2021, The First Source Center (FSC) is a project of the Lower Hill Development in collaboration with the Hill District Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan (CCIP) and intended to serve existing and former Hill District residents. The purpose of the Job Fair and Open House was to build awareness about the First Source Center's support services and give exposure to job and training opportunities available through organizational partners. The phone line has been ringing off the hook before and afterwards and the FSC looks forward to hosting another event again in the Fall.
Learn more about the First Source Center here.
See all the photos from the job fair here.
Thank you to all of our partners for helping make this event a success:
First National Bank
A. Philip Randolph Institute
Builders Guild Intro to the Trades
Cameron Professional Services Group
Catapult Greater Pittsburgh
Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)
Duquesne Light Company
EAT Initiative/ Eminent Hospitality
International Union of Painters & Allied trades District Council 57 Liken Home Care
New Century Careers
PPG Paints Arena
Salem's Market & Grill
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of Pittsburgh University of Pittsburgh Workforce Development
UPMC Pathways to Work
Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
WAMO Radio Station
Theresa Giacomino, CCS, LEED AP is a recognizable face for most people working on the Lower Hill Redevelopment. With experience in both architecture and design she supports construction development efforts in her role of Project Manager and CCIP Manager for Lower Hill Redevelopment. Serving in this capacity, her time is currently focused on FNB Financial Center, the new 26-story office tower anchoring the 28 acre redevelopment. She has been with PJ Dick Incorporated for 11.5 years. Hear from her in the Q & A below:
How does your background in construction tie into what you're currently doing with the project?
Over the past 25 years I’ve worked in both the design and construction industries. During that time, I’ve established strong relationships with a variety of subcontractors, including many owned by underrepresented groups (MWBE/SDVO/DBE). As the CCIP manager for the FNB Tower project, I’ve built on these relationships during the FNB project, fostering open and honest conversations with each on how to work together, form partnerships, and think outside the box to create opportunities for MWBE companies and establish goals for hiring craftspeople from diverse backgrounds.
How has your role evolved working on the Lower Hill Redevelopment project?
The role began like any other project, diving into the drawings and specifications, getting your bearings, talking to people and creating a plan. Quickly I learned how important the role was, and all it could become. This was the opportunity to help change how we all do business and contracting in the construction industry.
I began thinking outside the box of how we can make these connections between MWBE and Non-MWBE companies even in the midst of a pandemic. We created virtual networking opportunities. These included Bidder Information Sessions, dedicated sessions where Subcontractors and Suppliers could learn about the project as well as learn more about MWBEs and the services they could offer and held dedicated sessions for non-union companies to discuss the path from non-union to union. Connecting firms and the people working for them has been very rewarding, both professionally and personally.
What do you like most about what you do?
By far the most gratifying is talking to people and learning that what we have done differently on this project has made a difference in their careers and businesses. When I hear that an MWBE company was awarded a scope of work for FNB or for another regional project, it really hits home that this project – and my role in particular – is making a difference.
Do you have a mentor or advisor that has helped you along the way? (Personally, or professionally) Alternatively, do you do any kind of mentoring, coaching or teaching?
My first mentor was the late Janet McCarthy. She was a strong, intelligent and ambitious woman who helped me see that I can grow and learn in the industry as a woman, regardless of my education. She was both my employer and my friend. It’s important that we all help those around us to succeed by sharing experiences and encouraging words. There are many men and women that I learn and grow from, every day. I take any opportunity I can to encourage others to grow, learn, and be the best version of themselves.
Do you have any words of encouragement for other women currently in or considering entering the construction field?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes. That is the best way to learn. And if anyone doubts your abilities, prove them wrong. You can do anything you set your mind to accomplish.
March 17, 2022 - Buccini/Pollin Group's Bomani M. Howze, Vice President of Development was joined by panelists, Tracey McCants Lewis, Deputy General Counsel & Director of HR, Pittsburgh Penguins and Dr. Diamonte Walker, Deputy Executive Director, URA for an exciting update about the Lower Hill District project at the monthly NAOIP Pittsburgh Chapter meeting, Thursday March 17, 2022.
Panel Discussion was moderated by Marita Garrett, Founder & President, Civically, Inc. (Former Mayor, Wilkinsburg Borough)
NAIOP Pittsburgh is the regional association of developers, owners, investors and professionals of commercial real estate - a leading industry resource to foster business relationships, promote responsible development and support growth of the region through education, leadership and advocacy. NAIOP Pittsburgh is the regional chapter of NAIOP. NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, is the leading organization for developers, owners and investors of office, industrial, retail and mixed-use real estate. NAIOP comprises 20,000+ members and provides strong advocacy, education and business opportunities through a powerful North American network. Learn more about NAIOP Pittsburgh membership here. Read the full Developing Pittsburgh Fall 2021 Magazine here
Click here for all the photos
So far, the new development of the former Civic Arena site and the early work on the new 26-story FNB Financial Center has translated into $25 million in contracts to minority-owned businesses and $5 million to woman-owned businesses.
That's according to Bomani Howze, a vice president of development for the Buccini/Pollin Group, during a panel discussion update on the major Lower Hill redevelopment at a monthly breakfast event by NAIOP Pittsburgh.
"We dig deep," he said before the local real estate organization's breakfast audience at the River's Club downtown. "We don't just put numbers in the air."
The development of the new FNB Financial Center is expected to cost in the range of $240 million to build.
While the city requires 12% MBE and 7% WBE contract values, Howse and Pittsburgh Penguins Deputy General Counsel and Director of Human Resources Tracey McCants Lewis, a fellow panelist, said the standards for the Lower Hill redevelopment are for 30% and 15%.
They're standards aimed and achieving broader goals of overcoming the systematic disinvestment, redlining and discrimination with past development on the site and the rest of the Hill District and building wealth in Pittsburgh's minority- and woman-owned business community.
It was a panel discussion in which Diamonte Walker, the deputy executive director of the URA, joined as a third panelist on a major public-private redevelopment strategy in which her agency has played a key role.
Read more in Pittsburgh Business Times
By Tim Schooley – Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times
Mar 17, 2022 Updated Mar 18, 2022, 9:29am EDT
Three-hundred square feet of business signage has taken shape on Washington Place and Centre Ave., across from PPG Paints Arena. Visuals of the new FNB Financial Center and the Lower Hill District along with project partner logos celebrate the diverse range of local and national talent playing a part in the new development.
Architectural designer for the signage structure completed by local MBE, Graves Design Group, infrastructure construction and installation completed by local MBE, General Contractor, Ray Zellars and art installation completed by WBE print fabricator, Alpha Graphics.
Watch the project livestream here!
The First Source Center is hosting a Job Fair and Open House, March 30, 2:30pm - 7:30pm. This is an opportunity for current and former Historic Hill residents to meet prospective employers offering CAREER opportunities with family sustaining jobs.
Representatives from the following organization will be present:
Job Fair attendees will have the opportunity to take a free professional headshot - courtesy of Rick on the Run Media!
Refreshments will also be provided.
Please pre-register to inform us of your career and job interests so we can best accommodate your interviews!
March is Women's History Month, a month where we acknowledge women's historical contributions and recognize the sacrifices made by women, to help make the world, and our country, a more inclusive and diverse place. Meet Project Engineer, Olivia Grunseich, a bright and shining star at BPGS Construction who's been working on the Lower Hill Redevelopment project for nearly two and a half years. She spent her early days orchestrating community outreach efforts focused on minority and women owned businesses (M/WBEs). This critical work effort opened up a direct communication line to Lower Hill job training and employment opportunities, now funneled through the First Source Center.
"Initially, I put a lot of time into building our M/WBE database of Pittsburgh companies, and spent a lot of time assisting our internal team because I became the person that basically had a hand in everything. As time went on and we started growing our partners and team, I was able to dive deeper into the development / construction realm, and began focusing more on tracking our development budget, schedules, and report metrics," says Oliva.
Acting as Development Coordinator for the Lower Hill Redevelopment, Olivia draws from her educational background in civil engineering and construction management to navigate the development process. She attributes her success to date on past projects and says by educating herself on things like contracts, RFI’s and schedules it has helped her have a better understanding of how everything works allowing her to have a better overall understanding of the project. "I’m excited to see through the different stages of construction and development for each of the projects on the Lower Hill and hope to gain a better understanding with each day," she says.
While acknowledging the wealth of knowledge gained working in collaboration with the development team and many consultants, she notes her time spent working alongside BPGS Construction Manager Matt Corace as some of the most impactful thus far;
"Matt has one of the toughest jobs and still puts aside time to teach me about construction. As the construction manager for the project, and a native Pittsburgher, Matt has taught me so much over the years and I really admire his drive and attention to details."
Similarly, Olivia has taken on a "teacher" role coaching small construction business owners in a two part class on bidding and estimating. For the second year in a row she is working with Riverside Center for Innovation BizFIT Tier II Construction cohort.
For women currently in or considering entering the construction field, Olivia's shares these words of encouragement:
"My advice for other women is to not dismiss your own thoughts and feelings. It can be very intimidating to be the only woman in a room full of men, but in a lot of situations, you bring a whole different perspective to the table. Building confidence is so important when working in a male-dominated field and the first step to succeeding is by trusting your own ideas and contributions."
Firms interested in construction opportunities click here
Individuals interesting in construction opportunities should go to the First Source Center
Hear from Howard K. Graves Jr., AIA, NCARB, President and Senior Principal of Graves Design Group LLC (GDG), the largest and oldest African-American owned architectural firm in all of Western Pennsylvania!
How did you get involved in the LHR project? You might say, I have been involved since before LHR even started, through its various iterations, and remain involved today. I served on the Historic Review Commission (HRC) when in the 2000’s the decision on the fate of the Civic Arena was made. So from a professional standpoint, I believe my experience on the HRC as both an architect and board member was seen as an asset to developers. Perhaps, a way to bridge the gap that existed between those who wanted to preserve the Civic Arena and those who wanted to start with something new. I also lived briefly in the Hill as a child and returned as an adult to do selective work there as an architect. People, families know me on the Hill and I know them.
On top of that, my firm is the oldest and largest African-American owned architectural firm in the city. So, I believe I was a unique fit for developers looking to bring all of these aspects to the development. Everyone familiar with the development knows it has been a struggle to get all of the right pieces in place and several iterations, developers, etc. to get it right. That is why I was very grateful to receive the call from the current developer, The Buccini/Pollen Group (BPG) who invited us to participate on their team! Somehow, through all the iterations, our firm still fit in the puzzle! I could tell by the way BPG conducted business that “it was for real this time”. We began our relationship with BPG by submitting a proposal for design of Block E (the music venue) but when that portion of the development was suspended due to Covid-19, we thought we would again be sidelined. However, BPG asked if we might be interested in working with Gensler who was the architect on the FNB Financial Center since that project was moving forward. We said, yes, and soon were in talks with Gensler who was extremely gracious and accommodating in bringing us on as Associate Architect.
What is your role in the project? Officially, Associate Architect. Practically speaking, we are an integral part of Gensler’s design team with work that includes collaboration with their staff and areas where we take more of a lead. We are involved in all phases with emphasis in architectural support, fire & life safety, parking consultation, acoustics, stair tower design, entitlements, etc. We also participate in weekly meetings, have interaction with the developer, and represent the Team in interactions with the city.
What impact will your work have on the project? I believe our firm’s work brings a valuable level of expertise regarding parking and zoning/building code entitlement issues, from an architectural perspective, as well as unique of the Hill District, doing business with the city of Pittsburgh offices having jurisdiction over this project, and the fact that as the largest African-American owned architectural firm in the city, we are helping the project reach its diversity goals.
Why is this work important for the Hill District? Black community? Independent studies have confirmed what the Black community has known for decades; that there is a huge disparity in economic opportunity for Blacks in Pittsburgh vs. other residents. Whether you are comparing individuals, similar businesses, or sectors. Blacks have not benefitted from the city’s growth to the same level. In the building industry, most of the focus has been on finding minority/women subcontractors and while that is very important, I always thought there was low-lying fruit in earlier phases of a development; during design. I feel the design phase is the first step where inclusion could get off to a good start. Or, be skipped and fall behind. I applaud the Hill District leaders and the Black community for fighting for inclusion in all phases including developer, designer, contractor, operator. As an extension of the Black community, I feel our work, particularly the level to which we are a part of the design speaks volumes for the new precedent being established. The box marked inclusion for design is “checked”. This validates all the sweat equity put in by Black leaders and signifies the start of a new era. Based on my experience in the design phase, I believe the developer will continue to succeed during the construction phase.
Words of wisdom or how do you personally stay motivated when faced with adversity? Know yourself and your true value to society. Don’t be afraid to dream, fantasize, and plan your future. Strive to improve through continuous learning and experience. Celebrate success and learn from failure. Continuously calibrate yourself in life, to help you stay on your path. In life, there will be people who are allies and adversaries who are both in a position to judge you and affect your life without knowing you. Stay positive and believe in yourself. Accept help from the allies around you to help navigate obstacles along the way.
What organizations are you a part of or passionate about? Why? As a founding member of Pittsburgh’s African American Chamber of Commerce (AACC), I would say that this organization has been important to me. I graduated from a prestigious university with a BA degree in architecture. My classmates were on a sure path to professional success that was to be almost expected as a graduate from Carnegie Mellon University. But I was different; I was an anomaly simply because I was Black in the 1970s. There was really now established path to follow. I wasn’t invited to the participate in the same opportunities that my fellow classmates were and so their careers were moving at a faster pace. At the time, there was one Black owned architecture firm in the city with any marginal success. I knew I had to do more than just graduate and get hired. I needed to create opportunities for myself. In forming the local chapter of the AACC with other founding members, we believe we could lay the groundwork for support in the city of Pittsburgh for the Black community. My struggle to achieve equal opportunity in business has been in parallel with the struggle the AACC has faced for the Black community at large. Studies show that advocacy groups that support other marginalized groups have had a higher rate of success over the years but I feel the Black community advocate is gaining ground. I suppose I will remain passionate about AACC and groups like it that advocate for equality until they are no longer needed because equality is achieved.
About Howard K. Graves, Jr., AIA, NCARB - President, Principal in Charge, Graves Design Group, LLC
A Carnegie-Mellon University graduate and native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Howard K. Graves, Jr. is senior principal of Graves Design Group LLC (GDG), which happens to be the largest and oldest African-American owned architectural firm in all of Western Pennsylvania. He has decades of experience on hundreds of projects in University/Education, Parking Facilities, Multi-purpose Facilities, Offices, Monuments, Residential, Medical, Historic Preservation, Retail, Commercial, and more.
Howard began his distinguished career in the 1970’s, where he worked for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh. There, he was project manager on a large-scale restoration of the city’s historic Manchester Community. By 1988, he started his own firm in the Homewood, providing skilled jobs for members of the community as he focused on urban community projects throughout the city. Soon, he began receiving project awards and personal recognition for his expertise; he was a mayoral-appointed board member of Pittsburgh’s Historic Review Commission in the 1990’s and served there for 15 years, where he played an important role in determining the eligibility of historic designation status for buildings throughout the city. He also served 2 terms on the Pennsylvania Architectural State Licensing Board.
Another key development in Howard’s business came in the early 2000’s when his firm purchased the 6th floor of the Benedum-Trees Building, to relocate its headquarters in Pittsburgh’s downtown business district. This move from being a neighborhood business to a downtown firm positioned it to compete with larger firms in the city and gave Howard centralized access to networking with leaders in business and government. This helped to build brand recognition and led to growth of the firm.
Howard and the firm bearing his last name have become synonymous and are recognized with distinction. While his firm now has its own growing client base, GDG also collaborates with other professionals on very large well-known projects within the city, such as; Pittsburgh International Airport, Downtown Lazarus Department Store, South Side Works, PPG Sports Arena, PNC Park, UPMC Children’s Hospital, and the FNB Financial Center in the Lower Hill District.
A local leader and advocate for diversity, Howard is a founding member of Pittsburgh’s African American Chamber of Commerce and remains actively involved in his pursuit of promoting Graves Design Group and other MWBE professionals on projects. Within the firm, he teaches and challenges his diverse staff in support of their professional development; many have excelled under his tutelage and become successful processionals in their own right. GDG has and always will employ a very diverse group of people from varied ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and backgrounds.
Howard is absolutely the most vibrant and energetic person in the office, due not only to good health but also to the love and interest he has in his work. On top of that, he is further invigorated by the recent shift in political climate, towards diversity, which has brought his firm together with developers and other clients who, to achieve unprecedented levels of inclusion and overall success on projects.
To celebrate Black History Month we highlighted Black owned businesses that have made significant contributions to the Lower Hill Redevelopment (LHR) project and Hill District community. This is something we're going to continue to do throughout the year! Read on to find out more about minority-owned, equity investment partner, Clay Cove Capital, LLC.
With experience in diversified real estate investment, Clay Cove Capital is a key equity investor in the Lower Hill Redevelopment plan and a minority-owned firm co-founded by Amachie K. Ackah, Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer. With over 24 years of real estate industry experience as a professional in both real estate private equity and development, Mr. Ackah has partnered with master developer, Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG) for over 20 years.
Why is Black History Month important to you?
Black History Month is important to me not only to remember history but also it's important for pride and we as African-Americans, Black and Brown people have contributed so much to the United States and to the world. Whether it's music, science, innovations in agriculture, architecture - we need to understand how we continue to be an important force for innovation and change in the fabric of society.
The story of how we got here is important for all of us to know - white, black, brown or purple. Anything we can do to foster an appreciation and recognition of history is important because when you lose your historical perspective you lose your connection to community. Society is better off, more interesting, more dynamic because of our contributions. I think this month can really be always a reminder for us as adults and to children that we have a duty to ourselves and others, to look back at history, to be proud of what we've done and therefore motivated to do more for the betterment of the world.
Why are you proud to be part of the Lower Hill Redevelopment Plan?
Building and redeveloping in the Hill District Community is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I'm so proud to be part of. The depth of the community involvement we have with all the things we're providing is truly great. We've created an incredible master plan but we're also rebuilding a community physically and restoring the bonds therein. This was a vibrant place that was taken away so you're rectifying tangible historical injustices - real physical redlining and the resulting economic impact from tearing down a neighborhood and building highways around it. It's sad that these injustices occur at an exponentially higher rate for black and brown communities. To be a part of that solution is very, very special.
Together, we've created one of the most innovative reinvestment programs ever in the United States by taking a structure that's been used before, considered the situation in the community and made it very unique. Having a partner like First National Bank has allowed us to monetize and make sure that the capital was accessible on day one. All that we're doing for the reinvestment, things like Big Tom's Barbershop, is encouraging more development investment and economic activity in the Middle and Greater Hill which collectively works to strengthen the neighborhood and community as a whole.
To hear more from Mr. Ackah, check out his episode of Wealth Building Wednesdays where he talks about Clay Cove's cultural connection to the Lower Hill District and why he believes it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.