Black developer Emeka Onwugbenu ‘hopeful’ he can purchase the Hill House, three other properties

EMEKA ONWUGBENU

by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer

Imagine the famed Hill House Main building on Centre Avenue featuring an additional floor with a spacious balcony and amazing views of the neighborhood and Downtown, a new playground for the kids to play outside, new benches outside for those to relax and congregate, colorful lighting, historical plaques outside, and new tenants and social services on the inside.

It could happen, if the Hill House Association—with approval of the courts—sells the Hill House Main building and three of its other properties to E Properties and Development, an African American-owned company based in Lawrenceville.

Emeka Onwugbenu, founder and CEO of E Properties and Development, told the New Pittsburgh Courier via phone on June 17 that “there’s nothing final yet,” but “I’m hopeful” about acquiring the four properties from the Hill House Association.

Onwugbenu was the only person or company to make a public bid for all four Hill House properties when the Urban Redevelopment Authority solicited proposals earlier this year.

The Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, headed by executive director Ernie Hogan, placed a bid for just one property, One Hope Square.

The Hill District Development Review Panel, combined with input from the community, gave E Properties’ proposal a score of 88 percent, and said its proposal aligns with the Hill District Master Plan. The Master Plan includes preserving the historic status of the Hill as an African American hub, creating opportunities for Hill District youth and adults, and securing companies and organizations into the neighborhood that ultimately uplift African Americans in Pittsburgh in multiple ways.

The Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group proposal scored 74 percent, and did not align with the Master Plan, according to data provided by the Hill Community Development Corporation.

Onwugbenu, during a public Powerpoint presentation made in the Hill District a few months ago, outlined his plans for Hill House Main—adding a third floor “to preserve the existing structure and respect the history of Hill House,” new MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) systems to assure proper building performance and comfort for tenants, new windows on the first floor “to better connect the building to Centre Avenue,” creating sitting/meeting areas in the courtyard outside, a new “signpost” along the courtyard to create “a past, present and future” heritage walk, and leasing additional space to community partners.

There would also be a more pronounced “grand entrance” front door to Hill House Main and colorful lighting that would turn the building into a “communal lantern.”

E Properties and Development may not be a household name, but it’s no stranger to developing properties of African American interest in Pittsburgh—it was the developer and general contractor for the Urban Academy of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School in Larimer, a 38,000 square foot facility.

E Properties transformed the former McCleary Pittsburgh Public School in Lawrenceville into 25 new residences. The company also has developed single and multi-family homes around Lawrenceville.

For Hill House’s One Hope Square building next to Family Dollar on Centre, E Properties proposes partnering with Hill District artists to create a mural on the building’s left side, along with improving the building’s maintenance, security and cleaning process. Additional square footage to the building is also a consideration.

The Blakey Center’s primary function would be to support Hill District-based businesses, along with securing the “ideal tenant” to anchor the building.

E Properties would meet with Family Dollar, the tenant of the final building up for sale, and address the company’s needs, and add “accent lighting” to the building.

According to the Powerpoint presentation by E Properties, physical building improvements would begin around April 2020.

The Hill House Association—the organization itself—is nearing its end. Saddled with nearly $12 million in debt, the organization would pay down the debt load by selling the four buildings, and look to sell other properties at a later date.

Many of the Hill House’s social services are continuing via other agencies such as Macedonia FACE (Family and Community Enrichment Center), which will provide home-delivered meals and other services to seniors.

 

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