Lower Hill Redevelopment Featured in BisNOW: A Model For The Nation? A Transformative Pittsburgh Development Addresses Historic Social Ills
as featured December 12, 2022 BisNow, by Julia Troy, Studio B Editor
As commercial real estate continues to work toward becoming a more diverse and equitable industry, The Buccini/Pollin Group is delivering a new model for inclusion and community reinvestment in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District.
Across the nation, communities are still grappling with the history of redlining, a practice that began in the 1930s when the federal government and mortgage industry used color-coded maps to racially segregate American neighborhoods and schools. Federal highway projects, forced eviction via eminent domain and housing discrimination policies were deployed to displace African Americans from their homes and prevent them from purchasing real estate.
Simultaneously, more than $221B was allocated to white-only suburbs and schools, while African American neighborhoods received “urban renewal” developments that spawned 3,000-plus projects in 200 cities and towns across the U.S.
Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill District and the 12 public housing projects throughout the Greater Hill District were among the nation’s first of those major construction efforts to commence.
While redlining was banned under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, many neighborhoods still feel the impact of the practice today and have lost out on investment opportunities as a result. In Pittsburgh, the Lower Hill Development Team is reinvesting in one such neighborhood, the Hill District, and creating a development that celebrates and invigorates the local community.
“This is a transformational project with heavy social impact and reinvestment in neighborhoods that have been disinvested in deliberately, based on these redline guidelines,” The Buccini/Pollin Group Vice President of Development Bomani Howze said.
The Lower Hill Redevelopment is a $1B, 28-acre mixed-use project that will feature a diverse mix of office, retail and multifamily development, entertainment venues, restaurants, pedestrian corridors and vibrant open spaces.
In September 2021, the First National Bank Corp., the Pittsburgh Penguins, Clay Cove Capital and the Buccini/Pollin Group joined members of the Historic Hill District community to break ground on the FNB Financial Center, a 26-story mixed-use tower that will bring 475K SF of Class-A office space to the area, in addition to inviting plazas for community events and retail kiosks in support of small, local businesses.
Bisnow sat down with Howze and Chris Buccini, co-president of the Buccini/Pollin Group, to learn more about the project and what it means to the company and to the region.
Bisnow: Who is part of the development team for the project?
Howze: Along with the Buccini/Pollin Group, we have a minority-owned equity investment partner, Clay Cove Capital. PAR, the real estate development arm of the Pittsburgh Penguins, helped complete the first round of approvals and infrastructure improvements for the site. First National Bank is not only an anchor tenant of ours, but also a partner committed to seeing this entire 28-acre development come to fruition while reinvesting in the Greater Hill District. The Lower Hill Development Team is also partnering with Hill District-based OLMEC Development Co. on a joint venture to create the development’s residential units.
Bisnow: How is the development coming along?
Howze: Back in September of 2021, we broke ground on the FNB Financial Center at the base of Washington Boulevard and Bedford Avenue, in the part of Lower Hill that is directly adjacent to Downtown Pittsburgh. Starting here on this restorative reconnection effort was deliberate to begin our goal of addressing some of the social ills that came from redlining. We feel there is no better place to have a catalytic project that is a beacon of reinvestment back into the neighborhood.
We just finished the concrete podium for FNB’s new headquarters and have started to erect the steel and glass shell. We’re also getting ready to go before the city planning commission for approvals for the next $110M mixed-use project: a 910-space parking garage and a Live Nation music venue. Also slated for this 28-acre site are 1,200 units of residential development, another 800K SF of office space, a 400-room hotel and another 150K SF of entertainment and retail space that includes an incubator for small businesses. It’s a massive undertaking.
Buccini: Nothing has been done like this in Pittsburgh for several generations. The office tower alone is the first multitenant office tower built in 40 years in the city of Pittsburgh. Nationwide, it is one of the first office towers to come out of the ground in the post-Covid environment.
With that in mind, it will feature touchless, smart technology throughout the building, two forms of air purification and massive floor-to-ceiling windows that pull in tons of natural light and offer breathtaking views in every direction. The tower will have a dynamic amenity package that will support tenant return-to-work efforts. There will also be electric vehicle charging stations and bicycle storage in the garage of this trophy-class LEED Silver building when it opens in early 2024.
Bisnow: How is this different from other large urban redevelopment projects?
Howze: This is unprecedented. We have scoured the nation to see if there was a reinvestment plan to address the impact of redlining with a development project of this scale and we did not find one. We are in the middle of building a model, and at its core is a plan that involves a partnership with community stakeholders via the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan. This plan has seven focus areas that guide reinvestment back into neighborhoods that have experienced this type of disinvestment.
At closing last year, we were able to monetize the property tax abatement and direct $7.18M — a 50% share — of those proceeds to the community to allocate toward priority projects in adjacent neighborhoods. We've also awarded $45M in contracts to minority and women-owned businesses and have made over $24M in commitments to African American-owned businesses. We're very proud of this work and we want this to become an inspiration and a template for the nation.
Bisnow: What drew you to Pittsburgh and the Lower Hill community, specifically?
Buccini: Coming out of 2008, I said, “I don’t want to do business where I live, I want to do business where I want to be and where I can see the economy is growing.” We went to several cities and eventually met with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who control this 28-acre parcel. We weren’t setting out to do a big community reinvestment project, but we are ideally positioned to take it on because of our experience as a mixed-use developer.
On top of that, when you consider the scale of reinvestment we've done in our hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, which has faced some similar challenges, this opportunity was incredibly compelling for us.
Howze: I grew up two blocks from the Lower Hill site. My grandparents, father and his 11 siblings were forcibly removed from the area through the city’s use of eminent domain and scattered into the housing projects in the Middle Hill. Now, I’m directly involved as a developer, watching the FNB tower go up and reinvestment going back into the community.
I am extremely proud of the trajectory that we’re on and how we are approaching development now. There's only one tower in our entire skyline that can be called a beacon of reinvestment into the surrounding neighborhoods, and that’s going to be the FNB Financial Center.
It was an absolute pleasure for the Lower Hill Development Team to host the MacedoniaFACE Seniors’ visit to the Lower Hill Suite at PPG Paints Arena! This was a first hockey game for all of them. It made us both sad and glad because it reflects the growth and change that has happened in our neighborhood and throughout this city to be far more responsive around community engagement. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been making significant efforts, lately, and there is more to come. One gentleman told us that he saw both the construction AND the demolition of the Civic Arena. As Director of Community, Arts and Culture for The Buccini/Pollin Group, Dr. Kimberly Ellis stated, in relation to that fact, “I am still the Historian of the Historic Hill District and for the Lower Hill District Team. Elders are libraries and I am trying to read them all! “
Additional Lower Hill Team members in attendance were new BPG employee Jessica Jeffries, BPG’s Senior Vice President of Development, Boris Kaplan, and new Senior Vice President of Development for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Craig Dunham. We look forward to hosting more community members in our Lower Hill Suite!
Another small business spotlight will shine upon Angelica Grant, the CEO of Prestige Cleaning. Ms. Grant and her business has been rising to the top, lately, after her success working in residential post-construction and office cleanings, she has acquired new, more widespread and higher contracts with the City of Pittsburgh, as she secured her new office and became a graduate of the Riverside Center for Innovation’s BizFit Program. Angela’s Prestige Cleaning became the cleaning company charged with cleaning Point State Park following the Juneteeth and Soul Food Festival events and we hired her business to clean up the Frankie Mae Pace Park after our Hill Community Celebration and BBQ. Ms. Grant has used the First Source Center to seek out new hires and we look forward to working with her in the future. This picture of her advertisement at a bus stop at the corner of Crawford and Centre Avenue tells us exactly where she wants to be in the future---in the Centre of Energy!
Chef Cheyanne needed a kitchen to sell her delicious food. Cooking out of her house was unsustainable and Catapult Culinary offered a kitchen and business training resources. The Lower Hill first engaged with her as a caterer before she graduated from Catapult and have successfully contracted with Chef Cheyanne on several other recent events. Chef Cheyanne sells her award-winning greens and many other delicious items for pick up.
Find her HERE!
On Oct. 3rd, The Hill District Collaborative and Consensus Group hosted the Lower Hill Development Team to present Block E, the 900 space parking garage and Live Nation music venue.
Over 100 attendees were present at the Energy Innovation Center to listen to current updates of both the Preliminary Land Development Plan and the proposed Block E projects. After the presentation concluded, Hill residents asked questions and then weighed in to cast their votes on the plan.
The Collaborative and Consensus Group circulated their scoring rubric for the community to cast their vote. The combined total resulted in a passing score!
See the review rubric in the images below.
The weekend of August 12-14 was a BIG DEAL for the Historic Hill District, City of Pittsburgh, America and the international community, due to the heavily anticipated Grand Opening of the August Wilson House at 1727 Bedford Avenue. Friday August 12th kicked off celebrations with the premiere of August Wilson’s, “Jitney” in the Backyard Theater of the newly renovated boyhood home of August Wilson, which received standing ovations and rave reviews throughout its entire run. On Saturday, Founding Executive Director, Attorney Paul Ellis, along with his sister and original Digital Director, Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis, stood alongside architect Rob Pfaffman, August Wilson House Board members, and Hollywood stars Russell Hornsby and Denzel Washington, alongside Mayor Ed Gainey and others, for the ribbon cutting.
Just prior to the cutting of the ribbon, the crowd cheered with elation when Paul A. Ellis received a Commemoration from the City of Pittsburgh from Councilman Danielle Lavelle and Mayor Ed Gainey noting it was “Paul Anthony Ellis, Jr. Day” in the City of Pittsburgh! The large crowd that swept around the August Wilson House heard speeches from Denzel Washington, Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero, his niece, Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis (who is also Lower Hill Team Director of Community, Arts and Culture) and his daughter, Sakina Ansari-Wilson. At one point, there was not a dry eye in sight. The entire Grand Opening was a phased day of twelve hours of activities that began with taking a jitney shuttle to 1727 Bedford Avenue, hitting the red carpet, the celebrity ribbon cutting ceremony, the private tours of the August Wilson House, the catered lunch by Roxanne’s Catering, the African drumming to DJ Blakk Steel, August Wilson Monologue Competition performances and dancing all night long under the tent. The Lower Hill District Team was proud to sponsor this event and we look forward to continuing to support the August Wilson House. The news coverage of this event was seen in national and international news, including the New York Times!
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
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.
November 21, 2021 - Lower Hill Redevelopment partners - Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buccini/Pollin Group were proud to partner with UPMC, ACH Clear Pathways and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania on a series of COVID vaccination clinics for Hill District residents on November 21st and December 12th 2021. The "Have a Heart & Take a Shot of Hope Vaccine Clinic", serviced over 130 people including 30 pediatrics. Thank you to all organizations that helped make this event possible: WAMO, UPMC , Pittsburgh Penguins, Giant-Eagle, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Buccini/Pollin Group
Follow @lowerhillredev for information on upcoming clinics and events.
JLL and Buccini/Pollin Group present update on Lower Hill District redevelopment at Building Owners & Managers Association of Pittsburgh
November 10, 2021 - Members of Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG) executive team and JLL presented an update on the Lower Hill District redevelopment to a lunch audience of the Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA) of Pittsburgh at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.
Highlights of the update included the announcement that I-579 Cap Park, a new three-acre span would soon be complete and expected to be open this winter (November 2021). Like the 28-acre former Civic Arena site, the CAP construction is a necessary step in the reconnecting of the Hill District to the central business district.
Lower Hill redevelopment presentation updates also included how the development team plans to better include the Black Hill District community with multiple community reinvestment initiatives in the larger redevelopment plan. Anchoring the site is the new $240 million FNB Financial Center located at the corner of Washington Place and Bedford Avenue. This 26-story office tower will feature ground floor retail and serve as the Corporate headquarters for FNB.
Click here to see the site
Lower Hill Redevelopment Partner Finances $7.4 Million Renovation of Hill District's Historic Centre Ave. YMCA
On Friday October 8, 2021, officials participated in a celebratory ribbon cutting at Pittsburgh's historic Centre Avenue YMCA. Through a partnership between the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and ACTION-Housing, Inc. more than $7 million in funds were raised to make repairs, including adding elevator, new bathrooms, air conditioning and more. Plans include 74 sleeping rooms with new private bathrooms, improvements to the kitchen, common areas and programming space. In addition to building upgrades, residents will receive additional wrap around social services.
The 100 year old building is rich in history and one of the1st YMCA's in the country to offer accommodations to African Americans. Tenants over the years included baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige, boxing legend Joe Louis and singer Ella Fitzgerald. Speakers at the event recognized the buildings significance. It was where the Pittsburgh brand of the NAACP and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh were founded and it was the social center for generations of black Pittsburghers.
The building will be owned by a nonprofit and governed by a board consisting of members from the YMCA, ACTION-Housing and the community. First National Bank (FNB) invested in the project (including loan, tax credits and grant), partnering with ACTION-Housing for the first five years. After those five years, interests will be relinquished and it will wholly be owned by the nonprofit.
“Not only will this help a historically significant institution in the Hill District, but it’s going to help provide sanctuary and qualify of life opportunity for some of our men who are in need,” said State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District in a 2020 interview.
With a long history of service to the community FNB's total investment in the Hill District is in excess of $200 million in loans, investments and grants. Read more about it here.
Let's get social! In collaboration with Lower Hill development partner, the Pittsburgh Penguins, we are delighted to announce monthly ticket giveaways for select events happening at PPG Paints Arena. For a chance to win, simply follow @lowerhillredev (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube) and check daily for contest details. Below are pictures from this month's event Gold Over America Tour starring Simone Biles and an all star team of champion gymnasts. All ticket winners will be notified prior to the event with pick up details and PPG Paints arena venue requirements.
October Ticket Giveaway Winners
Gold Over America Tour Starring Simone Biles - October 29, 2021
Lower Hill District social media channels feature content on Hill District community events, the First Source Job Resource Center, construction and professional service job opportunities, M/WBE and small business information, trainings and FNB Financial Center leasing opportunities.
In early October 2021, Lower Hill partner organization and national brokerage / property management powerhouse JLL funded and hosted a cohort of Facilities Management trainees for a series of hands on training sessions at the Energy Innovation Center.
This is the first training session by a Lower Hill affiliate focused on future phases of building operations and administration. Recognizing that less than 1% of commercial real estate management roles belong to minorities, JLL is exploring additional Facilities Management training opportunities for 2022 and beyond as well as partnership opportunities for graduate job placement.
Five proud graduates made the first graduating class:
For more information contact Ed Manko at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lower Hill Invests in Ammon Recreation Center Renovation to Bring Tech Skills Programming to Hill District Youth
October 26, 2021 - With generous support of Lower Hill partners the Pittsburgh Penguins and F.N.B. Corporation, the City of Pittsburgh has transformed Ammon Recreation Center’s second floor into a new dynamic technology lab that will serve as a hub for Rec2Tech. Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works completed the renovation project that includes brand new interior improvements designed to maximize the learning environment for young people highlighted by new furnishings, computers and brand new wireless technology and expanded networking to support the new tech learning lab and other portions of the recreation center. The Grand Opening was celebrated on October 25, 2021.
Ammon Recreation Center was identified by the City and Hill District stakeholders to serve as one of first two hub learning environments in Pittsburgh to host a Rec2Tech program to provide access to technology, learn important job readiness skills like coding, artificial intelligence (AI), computer science and inspire creative exploration. Programming for the space will be managed by Citiparks, who oversees the Rec2Tech program, with partners Ozanam and the Josh Gibson Foundation to activate the space with tech learning opportunities for Hill District youth.