PITTSBURGH, Pa., May 25, 2021 – Almost $10 million in grants to support key Pittsburgh community development initiatives was approved by the Heinz Endowments Board. Funding includes more than $1.75 million to upgrade the historic New Granada Theater in the Hill District, another $1.7 million in continued support of the Hazelwood Green development and $750,000 to Bike Share Pittsburgh to assist its transition to electric-assist bicycles.
Additionally, among the nearly $30 million in total grants approved by the Endowments Board was COVID-relief support that includes a special $3 million fund to help the reopening of arts venues across the Pittsburgh region following closures and depleted revenues during the pandemic.
The community development funding is part of the Endowments’ ongoing efforts to improve the quality of life for all residents in the Pittsburgh region by supporting opportunities to address the health, safety and economic wellbeing of local communities, regardless of zip code.
In the Hill District, the $1.75 million grant to the Hill Community Development Corporation will support the renovation and expansion of the New Granada Theater, which has been vacant for decades. The money will help leverage funding from other sources that will total $35 million to restore the structure and build an addition, anchoring the corner of Centre Avenue and Dinwiddie Street in the heart of the neighborhood.
The New Granada Theater was designed by noted Black architect Louis A.S. Bellinger and built by Black laborers in the 1920s. During the community’s heyday from the 1920s through the 1950s, the Art Deco theater was a nationally recognized jazz center, hosting legendary performers such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Cab Calloway. The building’s renovation together with construction of affordable artist housing nearby by another developer is expected to reclaim an entire block of Centre Avenue, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, and strengthen current revitalization efforts in the community.
As part of its role as one of three foundation owners of the Hazelwood Green development in the Hazelwood neighborhood, the Endowments is making a commitment of more than $1.7 million towards its continued funding of initiatives at the site.
Among them are improvements required by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to develop future access to the site, renovation of the former locomotive roundhouse, and development of public space known as Mill Plaza. The funding also will help support planning for the next building phases, affordable housing and office space.
“Strengthening community development is core to building healthy neighborhoods, and improving quality of life for all, now and for future generations,” said Grant Oliphant, President of the Endowments. “This is a pivotal time that has further exposed areas of need and inequities in our communities that must be addressed if we are to move forward together in sharing in our region’s economic, social and cultural wellbeing.”
In supporting healthy lifestyles and advancing different types of mobility options, the Endowments has awarded $750,000 to Bike Share Pittsburgh for the transition of the Healthy Ride bike share system, which experienced record-breaking ridership last year, into ‘Healthy Ride Electrified.’
The Endowments’ support, along with funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Hillman Foundation and the economic development nonprofit Bridgeway Capital, will match a $1.6 million state grant to cover the costs of upgrading each of the more than 500 public-use bicycles with new electric-assist bikes and a series of solar-powered charging stations throughout the city.
"Pittsburgh's bike share system has been a valued lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing large increases in ridership as a safe and healthy alternative form of transportation,” said Endowments Sustainability Senior Program Officer Matt Barron. “The program is now continuing the momentum built over the past several years with a full transition to electric-assist bicycles, increasing accessibility to people of all age ranges and abilities. We know that physical mobility is a leading indicator of economic mobility, and we are proud to support the growth and improvement of Pittsburgh's bike share system."
Grants that support community development planning and strategy also include a $200,000 grant to the Northside Industrial Development Company that will help the community advocacy organization UrbanKind Institute in establishing the Equitable and Just Greater Pittsburgh coalition, which will work to address issues affecting marginalized communities such as housing and land use, food security, workforce development and education, criminal justice, environment and public health.
“The UrbanKind Institute will engage its membership of over 400 residents, nonprofits, government entities and private enterprises in a number of campaigns to advance policies to improve the health and economic outcomes for the region’s most vulnerable communities,” said Endowments Equitable Development Program Officer Karen Abrams.
Among other approved community development funding was an additional $2.59 million in grants to more than 10 groups such as Circles Greater Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation to advance programs to ensure the region’s economy helps all communities to thrive. Grants to another 20 organizations, including City of Bridges CLT and the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation, totaled $2.95 million and will support specific improvement projects in local communities such as construction of affordable housing and elimination of neighborhood blight.
Although the Endowments’ special emergency COVID-19 relief fund was closed out last year, the foundation has continued to provide support to communities and organizations in the Pittsburgh region as part of its regular grantmaking.
Among the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic has been the arts community, where individuals and institutions faced challenges in maintaining employment, personal income or performance venues. Some managed to stay afloat with creative virtual programming and donor contributions along with government support such as the payroll protection program (PPP) and the Save Our Stages program, also known as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.
As a significant investor in local cultural organizations and venues, the Endowments provided emergency operating support to many groups and now is creating a $3 million reopening fund that would be available to nonprofit organizations that own their own venues or have long-term leases for specific spaces. Money from the fund can be used for reopening expenses that include capital improvements and marketing and promotions. The grants process is currently being finalized and may involve making funding available as an invitation-only program.
Other Endowments COVID-relief support totaled almost $776,000 and included:
- $400,000 to Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg to help with gap funding for its child development program, which has lost revenue during the health crisis
- $150,000 to the University of Pittsburgh to enable its CONNECT forum for regional government leaders to assist local municipalities in addressing COVID-19 and other challenges
- $50,000 to Gateway Medical Society for coronavirus prevention and vaccination efforts and community engagement to help reduce racial health disparities
- $50,000 to United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh for culturally appropriate academic support and mentorship for Somali youth in response to the impact of school closures during the pandemic
- $50,000 to the Community Justice Project to support RentHelpPGH, a communications hub for accessing housing-related resources in Allegheny County
- $50,000 to Wilkinsburg Community Ministry for staff retention and to support its work in providing essential services in the Wilkinsburg area
- $20,000 to the Salvation Army to support efforts to make fresh, healthy food more accessible for low-income families
- $5,650 to the Union Project community center to support COVID-19-related adjustments to Bridges Home, an arts project that looks at homelessness and housing vulnerability
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