November 30, 2021 - The groundbreaking for Big Tom’s Barbershop was a joyous, community event, well-supported by the Historic Hill District Community, its residents, stakeholders and supporters! Hamm’s Barbershop, located at 2178 Centre Ave., named after the man and a place heavily revered in the Hill, has been vacant for a decade following his death. Now, Thomas Boyd, Sr., who is affectionately known as “Big Tom,” is ready to fill Mr. Hamm’s space with his own successful barbershop a bit further down Centre Avenue.
The heavy investment into Big Tom’s Barbershop emerged because it is a part of Mayor Peduto’s “Avenues of Hope” program and because of the desire to invest in someone who so heavily invested in his community. Dr. Diamonte Walker of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) served as the mistress of ceremonies, while elected officials from Senator Wayne Fontana, State Representative Jake Wheatley, Mayor Bill Peduto and City Councilman, Daniel Lavelle shared their perspectives.
Mr. Boyd will relocate his business to the first floor, while the second and third floors will be rehabbed into four one-bedroom apartments affordable to households at or below 80% area media income. Adjacent lots will be beautified and used as open space for the community and pop up sales.
To date the project has received over $1.94 million in funding from First National Bank (the largest subsidiary of F.N.B. Corporation), Lower Hill Group, Neighborhood Allies, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and URA. The project has also received over 450 of intensive technical assistance from Neighborhood Allies through their Centralized Real Estate Accelerator.
Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis Expands Role as Director of Community, Arts and Culture for the Lower Hill Redevelopment
The Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG) is pleased to announce the promotion of Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis to a new, full time position of Director of Community, Arts and Culture for its Pittsburgh office.
Kimberly C. Elis, Ph.D. is a Scholar of American and Africana Studies, an Artist, Activist and Entrepreneur, as well as a playwright, world traveler and international thought leader on culture, gender and social technology. She served on a Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership Committee to install a North Star Constellation at the center of Market Square and unveiled it with Mayor Ravenstahl and other stakeholders. And working with the Heinz History Center and Sam Black, Dr. Ellis served on a Committee to create and edit the historic landmark for playwright, August Wilson, which is permanently placed in front of the August Wilson House.
"I have been working in the community for a long time, in many different areas, but always to help inform, empower and inspire. I am honored to take on this new position of Director of Community, Arts and Culture, with the Buccini/Pollin Group because it reflects my values and allows me to honor my community, empower artists, entrepreneurs, and workers, and to spark economic vitality throughout the Upper, Middle and Lower Hill, and the city of Pittsburgh. I have always been someone who thinks outside of the box and about big ideas, so this is a good fit."
This is a newly created position that leverages her previous role as Lower Hill Historian and Cultural Legacy Consultant into a permanent role focused on engaging the community and empowering Hill residents, homeowners, artists and entrepreneurs, especially as BPG moves into the next phase of the Lower Hill development made possible by the advancing FNB Financial Center project.
A longtime resident of the historic Hill District, Dr. Ellis is the founder of the Historic Hill Institute, co-created the “Build the Hill” Community Conference and remains a consultant on the history of the neighborhood and its historic preservation. She served as a fellow for the National Trust for Historic Preservation; and is responsible for launching the campaign to make living in “the Historic Hill District” popular. Today, residents say it without thinking twice about this purposeful awareness campaign.
Dr. Ellis worked to secure the first Community Benefits Agreement in the State of Pennsylvania, co-created the Greater Hill District Masterplan and contributed to its historic preservation plans. She later worked with CH Planning to finalize urban planning for the historic Hill District. Dr. Ellis is a professional tour guide that gives tours of the historic Hill District and Pittsburgh and was featured in the New York Times for her work on the Underground Railroad in Pittsburgh. Most recently, Dr. Ellis served as the Historian and Artist on the I-579 CAP Park, where she created the History walls, a fictional character named, “Keisha” and wrote her storyline and dialogue. Keisha is at least one of the culturally-responsive elements that will be utilized in the Lower Hill Urban Open Space.
In June 2017, Dr. Ellis was the Keynote Speaker for the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation Symposium, which had its focus on Arts Activism, and in July 2017, she served as a member of the Tulsa delegation for the Initiatives of Change, "Just Governance for Human Security" Conference in Caux, Switzerland. At that conference, Dr. Ellis also earned a "Human Security X" certificate under the purview of the United Nations' "Initiatives of Change" program.
Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis will appear as a lead historian and storyteller in the “Terror in Tulsa” documentary, which will debut on The History Channel on May 31, 2021. She continues to educate the public about the worst and still unresolved case of domestic terrorism in United State’s History.
Dr. Ellis is also a freelance journalist, playwright, screenwriter and previously served as an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University, teaching their inaugural course on “August Wilson Dramas” for their Literary Culture program. She teaches online for the general public. She can be found at DrKimberlyEllis.com.
It’s time to tell a new story about Pittsburgh and of this land, the Lower Hill District, in particular. In 1829, a small set of families of Black people settled upon the Hill. At the time, it was known as Prospect Hill, Little Hayti and Arthursburg. With an attractive settlement with a good view, they had found a sweet spot. These sets of families were free and many were abolitionists, who became prominent members of the Underground Railroad. Some years later, [White families] began to settle in the area, as they found it desirable and many of them joined in as abolitionists.
During the late 19th century, immigrants began flowing into what we now know to be the Lower Hill. Upon exiting the train station, they came—the Irish, the Italian, the Jewish, the Russian, the Black Freedmen who became known as African Americans. They all came and settled upon a new life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—and in the Lower Hill. Soon, its seams were bursting and there was urban decay but still hopeful people making the best of the area. After World War II, there were many discussions by the federal government to renew American cities and engage in what we now know to be “urban renewal.” Pittsburgh was the first to be chosen and the Urban Redevelopment Authority was created in order to implement the program and receive the federal funds. Unfortunately, the plans that were made only partially came into fruition and the construction of the Crosstown Highway severed the physical connection between the Historic Hill District and the downtown. Disappointment and protests ensued. Further regional economic decline led to decades of dis-investment.
The area around the former Civic Arena which we call “the 28 acres” remained a series of parking lots and only one high-rise was created out of the many that were designed for the site. While there were many inspiring activities that took place in the Civic Arena, much of the rest of the area was left undeveloped, unfinished and a major disappointment for the next 60+ years. Pittsburgh’s first experiment at urban redevelopment largely failed everyone and African Americans the most. To date, it has remained contested space and the redevelopment potential of the Lower Hill has not been realized.
Enter The Buccini Pollin Group’s historic team.
It was a wonderful experience to help design the CAP Park above the Crosstown Highway and we are working to expand many of the aspects behind the design. As an extension of the CAP Park, the FNB Tower Open Space means that you get to walk up or down Wylie Avenue and explore a gorgeous landscape that is meant to inspire you from top to bottom. There will never just be one thing happening in the Open Space or in the Park. We envision arts entrepreneurs selling their wares, performing onstage, showcasing their designs and knowing that their pieces are sitting comfortably in the offices, hotel rooms and lobbies being created by the development team. We envision some of the best food being offered in food trucks, at retail kiosks, in the food hall and more permanent spaces. The cultural vibrancy of the Open Space depends upon the people who are invited and sustained. And you are invited.
For the last 60 years, the 28 acres has been contested space. Let's make it a celebrated space. It is time for us to write a new chapter of Pittsburgh that tells the progressive history of its past, as well as its future. Let us move forward with a new vision that honors and repairs the past, creates a better design for the future and forges a new path of shared prosperity expressed with this historic partnership.