by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Let Marimba Milliones tell it, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and start building.
A project that was years in the making, construction of the New Granada Square Apartments and Retail structure has officially begun.
A groundbreaking was held on June 30, with Milliones, the President and CEO of the Hill District Community Development Corporation, donning the proverbial hard hat and shovel, flanked by numerous supporters who are all-in on revitalizing the Hill District once and for all.
“It’s been a long time coming,” proclaimed Rev. Victor J. Grigsby, pastor of Central Baptist Church, on Wylie Avenue. “And the day has finally come for the groundbreaking that we’ve so patiently and anxiously awaited.”
When it’s all said and done, the Hill District will be home to this new five-story, 40 apartment development, of which the exterior’s Kente Cloth facade design was created by artist Charlotte Ka. The 40 apartments will be labeled as “affordable,” with the units priced from 20 to 80 percent of the Area Median Income. Apartments will either be one- or two-bedroom. Nearly 5,000 square feet of commercial retail space for businesses and restaurants will occupy the first floor. The apartments will be situated between the Hill District Federal Credit Union and Black Beauty Lounge, on Centre Avenue.
The Hill CDC said in a release that the New Granada Square Apartments is the largest commercial development and investment along the Centre Avenue corridor in generations.
“I want to first thank the Hill District community,” Milliones said during the June 30 groundbreaking. “I thank them most for believing. It’s hard to wait for progress. It’s hard to believe that we should aspire for better when people keep telling you, ‘just settle for anything.’ That’s hard.”
Milliones then thanked her Hill CDC staff for having a passion for the betterment of the Hill District.
When state Rep. Jake Wheatley, whose district includes the Hill, took the microphone, he made sure everyone knew who had the vision of a new apartment complex on Centre.
“First, somebody had to have a dream or a vision to say what they want, especially in neighborhoods like ours where we don’t have lawyers, doctors, architects who necessarily sit at all our tables in our neighborhoods, so we are at the behest of other people and other people’s dreams and visions,” the state representative said. “But we had someone (Milliones) who was running the CDC who saw a possibility in this sector and when she came to me (with the idea), I’m like, ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do that.’ She said, ‘I’m going to do it with your help. You gotta believe in yourself.’”
CHN Housing Partners, a Cleveland-based nonprofit affordable housing developer, decided to partner with the Hill CDC in constructing the New Granada Square Apartments. It’s their first development outside of Ohio.
“You liked us despite the fact that we’re Browns fans,” CHN’s CEO, Kevin Nowak, said. “We can’t think of a better place to do our work than in the historic Hill District. We are proud to take part in revitalizing this culturally rich neighborhood with so much potential.”
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency was also instrumental in making the development a reality, as the primary investor.
“They are investing right here on our main street in a project that isn’t just housing,” Milliones said of the PHFA. “It’s artists housing and commercial real estate. That’s not the normal type of investment and I thank PHFA for taking that leap on this special type of project and for taking a chance on creatives who are often used to build-up a community and then gentrification pushes them out.”
Commitments on investments have also been made by KeyBank, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, McAuley Ministries, Duquesne Light and First National Bank.
Nowak also touted the development’s fulfilling of economic justice goals by directing over 40 percent of the work to minority-owned businesses and more than 15 percent to women-owned enterprises.
Mayor Bill Peduto praised the Hill CDC and the Hill District residents for coming up with “its own master plan of how it wants to build back. One of the most critical parts of the plan is this historic block and making it a place where not only arts and culture can thrive, but where people can call home.”
Milliones also thanked the Hill CDC Board of Directors. She thanked the URA for “working behind the scenes creatively and worked with us to finesse different challenges that were necessary for us to do a very complex deal.”
And Milliones didn’t leave the microphone without thanking CHN Housing Partners, those Cleveland Browns fans they are, for choosing the New Granada Square Apartments, in a city they barely know, as their first development outside of the Buckeye State.
“Sometimes it takes someone who’s not from your hometown to see the opportunity,” Milliones said, leaving most of the crowd not knowing whether to clap or cry. “Sometimes it takes someone who’s not from your hometown to invest in you first. That’s real.”
A RENDITION OF WHAT THE NEW GRANADA SQUARE APARTMENTS will look like, once completed, along Centre Avenue in the Hill District. On June 30, the Hill District Community Development Corporation and partners officially broke ground on construction of the apartments, which will sit in between the Hill District Federal Credit Union and Black Beauty Lounge.