By C. Denise Johnson | Published Yesterday | Metro | Unrated
C. Denise Johnson
Courier Staff Writer
$1.1 mil stabilization of New Granada under way
The highly-anticipated Pittsburgh marathon can’t hold a candle to the long distance quest to save the New Granada Theater.
Marimba Milliones, now executive director of the Hill District Community Development Corp., is heading the effort to resuscitate the New Granada. She believes “the New Granada Theater captures past hopes and future possibilities of the historic Hill District.”
Working with Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and The Reinvestment Fund on fund-raising and technical support and with grants from the state of Pennsylvania, The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny County—that bright future may be near.
The HDCDC, owners of the property, acknowledges that this is the first step of a journey, but an important first step no less.
“We need the community’s continued support on the renovation of this historic landmark and are currently putting together a task force to continue pushing the effort forward.”
A glimmer of light began to flicker when the community came together to voice opposition to a proposed location of Pittsburgh’s first casino in 2006.
The establishment of a community benefits agreement (CBA) increased that light’s intensity. That was followed in quick succession with funding in grants from foundations and non-profits.
On Feb. 26, the Allegheny County Economic Development, Community Infrastructure and Tourism Board awarded Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation a $91,000 grant for the New Granada Theater stabilization. With this grant, the $1.1 million project is fully funded.
The New Granada stabilization project is also being supported by a $500,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments and $500,000 from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program through the Hill’s state Rep. Jake Wheatley.
“With the current completion of the Library and the capital campaigns for the Kaufman Center and the recent announcement of the grocery finally coming back to Centre Avenue, I believe that the New Granada is the linchpin that can connect all of Centre Avenue’s recent and future developments,” said Rep. Wheatley.
“Not only will the New Granada revitalization stand as a physical reminder of where we have come but as a sort of communal psychological reminder of all the energies, hopes and work that has gone into bringing our beloved Hill District back to life. This project more than any other with the possible exception of the grocery store is the most needed to demonstrate the long-term success of the revitalization efforts on Centre Avenue.”
Now when you go past the New Granada, you’ll see its front facade girded by scaffolding as the building stabilization proceeds.
“At one time, the Granada had 1,500 seats,” said Milliones. “Our plan moving forward will be to create it into a mixed-use space: commercial, office, cultural and maybe residential. We will need to do further evaluation on what this emerging market demands.”
Yet still, when you shine a glimmer a hope on the New Granada it is met apathy in response from some quarters of the community, some of it justifiable after decades of discussion and false starts. So why keep whipping a dead horse?
Milliones sees the progress with the historic structure as a potential catalyst to spark renewed interest and replace the vacant lots that dot Centre Avenue once you pass Devilliers and Dinwiddie streets.
“The New Granada Theater is easily one of the largest physical spaces in the Hill District and is strategically located at Centre and Dinwiddie, which connects the Lower Hill to the Middle Hill as well as Uptown to the Middle Hill,” Milliones said. “Although we have not fully defined its future use because it is so large, it may serve as performance space, office and commercial space, cultural space and more. It is hard to appreciate the capacity of this project and its potential impact on the community until you have a chance to walk through the interior of the structure.”
Milliones now gives tours to the community and interest organizations once a month.
“The stabilization of the New Granada Theatre is definitely creating a new energy in the community. Businesses that weren’t interested in locating in the Greater Hill District are now taking a serious look at locating in the Hill District,” said Bill Generett, executive director of the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone, an incubator for small businesses.
Those businesses now include small technology firms who cite the flurry of development on the Hill as impetus for renewed interest, said Generett. “The development activity of the new arena, the YMCA, the opening of the new library and the grocery store provide an impetus for considering the Hill District as a prime location to grow a business.”
Generett says the visible progress of the scaffolding on the Granada speaks volume as to the growing renaissance of the historic neighborhood.
There are, however, naysayers who still believe its future is doomed with the soon-to-be-opened August Wilson Center for African American Culture in the Cultural District poised to be the prime performance venue for the community.
“The August Wilson Center is an important part of our future and we wish it the greatest success. There are a number of synergistic roles that the buildings can play between each other including accommodating artistic and cultural needs for Pittsburgh ever-evolving artistic community,” Milliones said. “But again, the Granada’s size lends it to re-uses that include residential space, commercial, educational, institutional and more. We will be completely open as we move into this next phase of development.”
Which is a good thing, especially since the New Granada resurrection isn’t out of the woods.
“In a perfect world, we would be able to raise enough for the entire redevelopment of the building, but we understand that buy-in and financial support is gradual, particularly in this economic environment,” Milliones said. “Our immediate need hovers at about $500,000 so that we can move into a phase which includes design, planning, fund-raising and additional stabilization of the structure.”
Milliones hesitated to provide a number of how many dollars are required to complete the restoration project due to the number of variables involved as well as how long it would take. “Its difficult to fix a number to it due to fact that it has yet to be determined what the final use of the building will be,” she said.
Suggested uses have included a mix of retail and office space, lofts, gallery space combined with the structure’s original use as a showplace and multipurpose/ballroom. Add in state of the art facilities to accommodate the latest technology, and it could add up to a pretty penny.
“What it means that the community, and Greater Pittsburgh, should view (the New Granada) as preserving the past while investing in the future,” Milliones said.
Interested donors may contact the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation at 412-471-5808 and contribute to the New Granada Theater. All donations are tax-deductible.
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