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By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The New Granada Theater has long been a link to the Hill District’s past, a one-time jazz hot spot that drew the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington before closing and falling into disrepair.

Now it’s ready to re-emerge as a key part of the neighborhood’s future.

The Hill Community Development Corp. plans to issue a request for proposals seeking a partner for the redevelopment of the New Granada block on Centre Avenue, with the theater serving as the anchor.

“It is the catalytic project for the redevelopment of Centre Avenue, no question about it,” said Marimba Milliones, Hill CDC president and CEO.

CDC officials are partnering with the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority on the effort. The URA board will vote today on a memorandum of agreement relating to the RFP. It also will vote on whether to enter into six months of exclusive negotiations with the community development corporation for the sale of 17 URA-owned parcels needed for the redevelopment of the block.

The CDC has taken more than a decade to get the theater ready for redevelopment. The building, which had fallen into disrepair, required $1.2 million in work to stabilize. Marketing plans also had to be crafted.

Famous jazz artists such as Armstrong, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker once played at the theater. Ellington was proclaimed “king of jazz” during a national radio broadcast from the building, according to the CDC.

In the future, the community development corporation envisions a mix of uses for the theater, including retail, commercial activity and entertainment. It is planning cultural space on the second floor, once home to the famous New Savoy Ballroom, and probably the first. It also is “dreaming really big” on plans for the third floor, though Ms. Milliones would not reveal any details.

The theater will anchor the redevelopment of the block, dubbed New Granada Square, featuring 50 mixed-income apartments and 7,200 square feet of first floor retail space along Centre.

It also will serve as a key element in the broader remaking of Centre, which runs through the heart of the Hill. The CDC sees a corridor teeming with arts and hospitality offerings, small businesses, restaurants, entertainment, galleries, and outdoor spaces.

Ms. Milliones said she is excited about the redevelopment potential of the theater and the corridor because the CDC took its time, studied the market, and structured its plan around what it learned.

The plan builds on the Hill’s rich cultural legacy but in a way that takes into account the economic realities of today’s Pittsburgh, she noted.

“It’s more than dreams on paper. It’s connected to real market data,” she said.

The CDC hopes to select a developer for the New Granada Theater block before the end of the first quarter.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

Date Published: 
Thursday, January 14, 2016

 

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