The Homewood Community Development Collaborative is deliberating a range of options for the reuse of the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum, including one that would turn the property into the only roller skating rink in city limits.
The 27,000-square-foot building was built to be a trolley car barn. Since the 1960s, it has housed a roller rink and bowling alley, an event space, a community center, the late John Brewer Jr.’s Pittsburgh Black history archive, and a cafe. And many of those at the same time.
The coliseum has sat empty for the last few years after the Urban Redevelopment Authority took possession of the property in 2018 and spent nearly $1 million to fix the roof in 2020.
Then in July 2021, the URA issued a request for proposals to reuse the building.
Four finalists selected by the Homewood Community Development Collaborative presented their ideas at a community meeting in late April at the Community Empowerment Association in Homewood. The Homewood Community Development Collaborative will decide which proposal should go forward to the URA for its approval.
Many members of the community in attendance at the meeting were behind a plan presented by Rico Rucker, a Homewood resident who wants to return roller skating and bowling to the building.
“This building is a historic building. And Mr. Brewer has been my mentor,” Rucker says.
He said he has been renting the building for skate parties since 2002 and has been throwing free skate parties outside of the coliseum to showcase how skating can return to Homewood.
Many of the community members who supported Rucker’s plan were wearing T-shirts he had printed with a facsimile of a Pennsylvania license plate on the front that says “Homewood State of Mind” and the hashtags “Buy Back the Block Movement” and “Make Homewood Great Again” on the back.
“Roller skating is thriving. The culture is coming back,” Rucker says.
Residents are also enthusiastic about neighborhood resident Jackie Hill’s plan to turn the coliseum into The Mall of the Mighty, a combination cultural center and retail accelerator for 20 to 25 startups.
Her plan is to have two anchor tenants — a bank and a medical clinic — plus a full-service restaurant that would train young people in culinary arts, a small museum, a bookstore specializing in Black literature and African American studies that would also house a cafe, and a black box theater.
“This project is not only about developing the coliseum, it is about jumpstarting the economic development of our community and making sure that we have Black businesses, jobs and opportunities for the community to build personal wealth by investing into the project,” Hill says.
She is seeking investments from people in the community so they can own a piece of the project.
A third plan, from John Conturo, would bring his machine shop, Conturo Prototyping, into the building. The company is currently housed in the Lexington Technology Park, but Conturo says it has run out of space there.
Conturo employs 30 people now and says he would double that in the coliseum with a starting wage of $18 an hour. Conturo Prototyping would also set aside space for the University of Pittsburgh Manufacturing Assistance Center, which used to be located in the Westinghouse Building on Susquehanna Street but was moved to Titusville.
Conturo says that since the coliseum building is so large, other businesses — such as a restaurant, a maker space or a retailer — could use the space that opens onto Frankstown Avenue.
Homewood residents were openly opposed to a plan by Tamiya Clements, who grew up in the neighborhood but now lives in Florida. She wants to create the Heritage Marketplace.
It would have eight to 12 food stalls with counter seating on the ground floor along with four small retailers, two full-service restaurants and a grocer. The second floor would have a demonstration kitchen to teach cooking, along with offices, medical offices and retail space. The third floor would have a rooftop garden, a computer cafe and an event space.