New Granada Square development. Image courtesy of Hill District CDC.

The long-abandoned New Granada Theater finally seems ready for new life, anchoring a development that could be transformative for the Hill District.

“The New Granada Square is a $45 million project, encompassing a city block,” says Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation. “It includes a historic restoration of the Granada building, a 24,000-square-foot office building, affordable artist-preference apartments and 7,500 square feet of commercial space beneath the apartments, with parking in the rear.”

On Thursday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) voted to convey the land to the Hill Community Development Corporation and Cleveland-based CHN Housing Partners, for the mixed-use development.

Construction on the five-story, 40-unit apartment building — available to those at or below 80% of the area median income — is planned for this summer.

The theater alone is a multi-level, mixed-use project which will provide a range of functions.

“It’s not a traditional theater, where you just walk in and there are seats and a screen,” says Milliones. “It’s a 3 1/2-story building. It will have commercial, institutional, cultural and community space, including a food hall and a small black box theater, and a multipurpose events space, that can house anything from a concert — 926 seats –to a conference, to a TED talk, to a large-scale event.”

The top floor will be anchored by the University of Pittsburgh Community Engagement Center.

“I’m super-excited about the (Pitt) Department of African American Poetry & Poetics that will be housed there, as well as a STEAM studio,” says Milliones.

The STEAM studio will focus on the intersection of science, technology, entertainment, arts and media, developed in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.

The New Granada Theater, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by Louis A.S. Bellinger, one of America’s early African-American architects.

“This is his last remaining structure,” says Milliones. “There are lots of interesting architectural components, and it also documents the need for African-American social space. It was designed as a Knights of Pythias temple; this was their fraternal hall. This space is important because it documented life at that time. Furthermore, Duke Ellington was named ‘King of Jazz’ at New Granada, Louis Armstrong has played there, Earl Hines played there. In jazz culture, the New Granada has substantial importance.”

It’s a development that has enormous potential for Centre Avenue and the entire Hill District neighborhood.

“There’s development, and there’s development that really gets at the core of a city or neighborhood’s identity,” says Milliones. “This is one of of those projects that’s not only catalytic, but also is a tremendous nod to the history of the Hill District community and its importance to the city of Pittsburgh, historically.”

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.