THE PITT BUILDING ON SMITHFIELD STREET IS NOW BLACK-OWNED BY THE GREENWOOD PLAN, A NON-PROFIT, WHOSE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR IS KHAMIL BAILEY. (PHOTO BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)
Courier learns exclusively that plans for a Black four-star restaurant are in the works
Imagine a building that’s Downtown Pittsburgh, that’s Black-owned, that’s actively trying to become a Black mecca of sorts, full of Black-owned businesses and Black prosperity.
Well, imagine no more.
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that The Pitt Building, which takes up an entire block on Smithfield Street, from the Boulevard of the Allies to Third Avenue, has been acquired by the nonprofit organization The Greenwood Plan. The Greenwood Plan’s executive director is Khamil Bailey, known not only for her “Cocoapreneur” website directory that highlights hundreds of Black businesses in the Pittsburgh region, but for opening the “Emerald City” co-working space, which is on the second floor of The Pitt Building.
The Courier has learned that The Greenwood Plan, which is officially listed under the name Greenwood Smithfield, LLC, on the Allegheny County Real Estate Portal website for the purposes of ownership, paid $4.075 million for the three-story building, which Bailey said is actually one main building and two attachments.
Bailey and The Greenwood Plan’s Board of Directors had a plan to purchase the entire building just four months after The Greenwood Plan signed a lease to open Emerald City on the building’s second floor in November 2021. On Dec. 21, 2023, after more than a year and a half of raising the capital, paying attorney fees, etc., the building was officially in The Greenwood Plan’s hands.
“We want this to be a Black business incubator,” Bailey told the Courier exclusively, Jan. 15. “Give Black businesses the opportunity to operate in Downtown storefronts where they may not have otherwise been able to do because the terms are not normally favorable. We want to do that through programming and rent subsidies, giving people the training wheels to be able to get into these spaces and get the revenue that comes with the traffic that comes with being Downtown.”
While the exact number of Black businesses Downtown is unknown, a drive through Downtown clearly illustrates the dearth of Black businesses. Bailey said there are 10 units open to businesses or organizations in The Pitt Building; three are currently occupied by Emerald City, a Cricket cell phone store, and a Traveler’s Aid of Pittsburgh nonprofit. Bailey hopes to see the rest of the units leased to Black-owned businesses or nonprofits.
“I know that back in the early 1900s, there were Black businesses that operated Downtown,” Bailey told the Courier. “…We want to bring that back, remind people that we (African Americans) are a part of a thriving economy just as anybody else, not just as consumers but as wealth-builders.”
Bailey said the Hillman Family Foundation supported the acquisition of The Pitt Building with more than $2 million. A private donor gave a $1 million donation.
‘The things that I have been exposed to in my upbringing lend to my belief that Black people are capable of everything.’
– KHAMIL BAILEY
Bailey and The Greenwood Plan’s Board of Directors clearly see the value of being located Downtown. The question is, how do others view Downtown? Over the past few years, talk has suffocated the airwaves on whether or not Downtown Pittsburgh is viable for businesses. As places like 7-Eleven, CVS and McDonald’s have closed their doors of one or more of their Downtown locations, entities like Target have welcomed Downtown with open arms. Pittsburgh’s mayor, Ed Gainey, continues to vouch for Downtown, as do other city leaders and Council members.
Some longtime Downtown buildings which have sat vacant or nearly vacant in recent years have been put up for sale, likely to be purchased and repurposed as residential buildings instead of commercial. That includes the news, Tuesday, Jan. 16, of locations at 901 and 903 Liberty Ave., and 610 Wood St. that have been put up for sale. Even the famed Kaufmann’s Building, Downtown, is an apartment these days (Kaufmann Grand), though the storefront space is occupied by Target, Five Below and Burlington.
Bailey said her organization’s plans have nothing to do with residential. It’s all about giving Black-owned businesses a place to thrive in a Downtown where, come this spring and summer, it should be full of foot traffic.
As far as the type of Black businesses she wants in The Pitt Building: “If you have a business that you feel can contribute positively to the community, those are the types of businesses that we want,” Bailey told the Courier.
“The big one that we do have earmarked is a four-star restaurant that serves some type of Black cuisine,” Bailey told the Courier exclusively. “We want a Black, four-star dining experience to be a part of this building.”
Bailey said her organization is “actively seeking” a restaurateur to make it happen. “When people come to visit the city and they ask, ‘Where should I go to get food,’ people are immediately saying, they have to come down to this restaurant,” Bailey said.
Bailey is an East Orange, N.J., native, who came to Pittsburgh in 2005 to attend the University of Pittsburgh. Now a resident for 19 years, she told the Courier she felt that when she came to Pittsburgh originally, “there was no indication that Pittsburgh had a healthy relationship with their Black folks and then studies continued to demonstrate that that was true. And I come from a place where it is starkly different. Principals are Black, my mayor was Black, doctors were Black. I saw Black business owners. I saw Black people occupy various socio-economic statuses and education levels, so I had this very holistic view of Black people, and when I got to Pittsburgh, that just was not the case.”
In fact, Bailey said she was “culture shocked.”
The Greenwood Plan, which takes its name from the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of “Black Wall Street” but was destroyed in a race riot in the early 1920s, is dedicated to Black economic empowerment in Pittsburgh, Bailey said.
She added: “The things that I have been exposed to in my upbringing lend to my belief that Black people are capable of everything.”