Several vacant storefronts in downtown Pittsburgh will soon get a makeover and new occupants. That’s thanks to nonprofit organization the Greenwood Plan, which recently announced its acquisition of the Pitt Building at the corner of Smithfield Street and Boulevard of the Allies through a subsidiary LLC. The nonprofit plans to convert the building into an incubator for Black-owned businesses as well as a coworking and community space.
“The acquisition of the Pitt Building is a testament to the Greenwood Plan’s unwavering commitment to fostering economic equity, promoting entrepreneurship, and creating a sustainable impact in the Black business community,” the organization said in a press release.
The incubator idea is directly in line with the Greenwood Plan’s mission of “advancing economic justice for Black communities” — named for Tulsa, Oklahoma’s famous Greenwood neighborhood, aka Black Wall Street, which was largely destroyed in a deadly race riot in 1921, the Greenwood Plan grew from an initial Greenwood Week conference into a full-fledged nonprofit after its 2021 founding.
“From the positive reception of the conference, not only from attendees but also other resource providers, we realized we wanted to expand our offerings and provide more small-business programs,” Greenwood Plan’s cofounder and executive director, Khamil Bailey, told Pittsburgh City Paper.
Bailey noted that the three-story brick building already has three tenants, including a mutual aid nonprofit, a Cricket Wireless store, and an anchor tenant in the form of coworking space Emerald City. The Greenwood Plan has already heard from parties interested in the “turnkey-ready” coffee shop formerly occupied by Gloria Jean’s Coffees, a roomy event space, and a fine-dining space at the corner of Smithfield and Third Ave, per the cofounder.
“There are five shell spaces in the building that need to be renovated and developed,” Bailey said. “We intend to ‘vanilla box’ these units and work with incoming tenants on tenant improvements.” The renovations could start as soon as next month. Bailey says the Greenwood Plan has also been in touch with Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership about the potential for pop-up tenants.
The 100-year-old building previously underwent renovations to become the short-lived Beauty Shoppe coworking space. Bailey said the coworking space was once home to a Republican social club.
“We can’t imagine they would have approved, agreed with, or welcomed any of what we’re doing there, so that feels a little like poetic justice,” she told CP with a laugh.
Longer-term, the Greenwood Plan is hopeful that the Pitt Building can both contribute to the rethinking of Downtown in an age of remote work and a changing business climate. The nonprofit is focused on creating a “holistic” business ecosystem where tenants can thrive, Bailey said. But more important is creating a space where community elders see continuity with Black Pittsburgh’s long legacy of entrepreneurship — and where Black youth “get to see people who look like them doing amazing things” and draw inspiration for their own professional goals.
“We want this building to be a pillar for the Black community in the greater Pittsburgh area,” Bailey said, “and we want this building to be a model that other, similar cities can replicate.”
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