Four properties on Centre and Wylie avenues that play a critical role in the Hill District may soon undergo major reconstruction, with a goal of continuing their tradition of providing community services.
Lawrenceville-based E Properties and Development, a real estate development company owned by Nigerian immigrant Emeka Onwugbenu, is seeking bids by Nov. 12 from architectural firms to redevelop the campus. The Hill Community Development Corporation is a minority partner in the project.
The buildings — Hill House, One Hope Square, Family Dollar and Blakey Center — are situated on 4.5 acres in the heart of the Hill District. E Properties and the Hill CDC acquired the properties for about $5 million in 2019 from the Hill House Association.
Onwugbenu says in the request for proposals that his goal is to increase the value of the Hill House campus and its historic contribution to the community.
“With the four buildings performing at 71 percent occupancy, we are honoring the lease terms of all of the current tenants, currently negotiating new leases with businesses that will contribute to the community, and we have a host of building improvements slated for all four buildings,” he says.
The RFP notes that the age, deteriorating condition and layout of the buildings may provide challenges to creating a campus-type feel that allows them to function as one, possibly with a central courtyard where tenants and visitors could work and relax. It asks the design team to pay special attention to the exterior design of Hill House, the oldest building.
“Hill House is a historic institution in the Hill District neighborhood and its ongoing transition remains difficult for the community,” says Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill CDC.
The organization has held public forums to keep community members apprised of the status of the Hill House properties, and prospective architects were given an opportunity to tour the buildings this week.
E Development is hopeful that the work can be done without disrupting or relocating current tenants, who include several nonprofits, community-based and governmental organizations. The redevelopment “must be executed with sensitivity around the services provided by the tenants,” Onwugbenu says.
In addition to repairs and new mechanical, plumbing and wiring systems, the buildings will need improved security, lighting, restrooms and accessibility for people with disabilities, the RFP notes. Shared workspaces, conference rooms and patios are a desirable addition.
Founded in 1964, Hill House Association was managed and operated by the community’s Black leaders and became deeply in debt before its dissolution. Before the sale to E Development and the Hill CDC, the main building at 1835 Centre Ave. had lost five tenants when a burst pipe flooded the basement and led to the building’s closure for five months.
Hill House has remained as a tenant there rent-free under terms of the sale.
Both a social services organization and cultural institution, Hill House has offered daycare and senior services, parenting classes, medical and dental care for community members — and even music lessons and concerts — over the years. Its debt grew after it became involved in Lower Hill economic development projects, including Centre Heldman Plaza, the site of a former Shop ‘n Save.