Atlanta’s Pittsburgh Yards Opens With Community Celebration

Posted September 24, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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Dozens of people, including children, families and civic leaders, came out on Sept. 18 to celebrate the opening of Pittsburgh Yards® — a community-driven development in Southwest Atlanta focused on entrepreneurship. The Casey-funded project is designed to be a commercial anchor with living-wage jobs that generates positive change for residents in the surrounding communities of Neighborhood Planning Unit V (NPU-V).

The celebration, planned and executed by community members and entrepreneurs, included a marketplace with local businesses, entertainers, family activities, free children’s books and tours.

First Phase Complete

The now-complete first phase of redevelopment at Pittsburgh Yards focused on a major renovation of a 61,000-square-foot former trucking terminal. The structure, formally named The Nia Building™ by a resident-led naming process, has been fitted with 101 leasable workspaces, conference spaces, an amphitheater and five apartment units. It will also house a shared-use kitchen and market.

“I’m excited about all the progress being made at Pittsburgh Yards,” says Stephanie Flowers, president of Neighborhood Planning Unit V. “Startup and growing entrepreneurs now have a great space to cultivate their businesses, and local residents have a new place to gather and be in fellowship. This celebration honored the strength of our community and the promise that Pittsburgh Yards holds for the future.”

In addition to The Nia Building, the first phase of redevelopment includes an outdoor site for repurposed shipping containers that can become workspaces and storefronts, as well as a large green space, known as James Bridges Field. This phase also includes five pieces of land prepared with infrastructure for larger ground-lease tenants in future buildings.

Residents Shape Key Facets of Pittsburgh Yards

From its inception, community members have played a key role in shaping Pittsburgh Yards. The development team, headed by Columbia Core Partners (CCP), led monthly engagement meetings, focus groups and other volunteer opportunities to solicit resident input at every stage of the project.

As a result, community members partnered with a local design firm, HUMINT, to develop a collection of color palettes, taglines and logos for Pittsburgh Yards’ marketing materials; helped identify local artists and craftspeople to execute multiple projects; developed a set of criteria for use of the public green space; and named several building spaces and streets.

“Pittsburgh Yards is different than a typical capitalistic real estate development project,” says Ryan Akin, development manager for Columbia Ventures, an Atlanta-based real estate development company that comprises half of the CCP team. “Getting to this point has involved authentic, meaningful participation from residents. The mission of the project to serve the local community has been just as integral to every step of the journey as it has been to the desired destination.”

For James Harris, cofounder of The Core Venture Studio (Core Ventures), the other half of CCP, the redevelopment process was personal. “In some ways, I was sort of born for this project,” says Harris, who lives near Pittsburgh Yards. The former leader of a neighborhood association, Harris and his Core Ventures colleagues spearheaded much of the community engagement work.

“The community embraced the idea that this project would be an addition to, and an investment in, the historic Pittsburgh neighborhood,” he says. “Our goal was to empower them with a deep understanding of real estate development knowledge and provide opportunities to plug into the process.”

Supporting Black Entrepreneurs at Pittsburgh Yards

A diverse group of entrepreneurs has already begun leasing space at Pittsburgh Yards, including those with businesses focused on wellness and fitness, finance and tax consulting, realty, youth development, e-commerce and photography.

In keeping with the goals of Pittsburgh Yards, which include ensuring that the surrounding neighborhoods realize the greatest benefits possible from its construction, residents of NPU-V were given priority access to the coworking memberships and workspace leases.

“Our development partners took important steps to make sure local entrepreneurs could be first in line at Pittsburgh Yards,” says Kweku Forstall, director of the Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site, which serves as primary investor and advisor on the project. “The team sent mailers, held meetings and targeted outreach to Black business owners in Southwest Atlanta so they knew about the amenities, pricing and support that was available to them.”

Mary Gay, chief executive officer of Virtual Professionals LLC, was the first business owner to lease space in The Nia Building. She’s lived in nearby Summerhill for 23 years and previously ran a staffing agency from her home.

“I’ve been engaged with Pittsburgh Yards since the start,” says Gay. “I went to every meeting, and I volunteered for everything, because I saw the vision and what this space can do for our community.” Though she’d successfully operated from home for 20 years, Gay felt compelled to open a physical office to provide services to residents who may not otherwise have job-placement support. “There are a lot of folks who are trying really hard to make a better life for themselves and their families, and I believe I have a role to play in preparing them to take advantage of the opportunities that exist at Pittsburgh Yards.”

Local nonprofit Our Village United has partnered with Pittsburgh Yards to provide training, business solutions and support — including monthly events, workshops, mentoring and wellness resources — to current and future entrepreneurs to help them strengthen and grow their enterprises. The organization says its mission is not only helping businesses survive but also helping entrepreneurs thrive and providing business owners with tools to achieve their highest potential.

At the time of the celebration, 60% of the available leases within The Nia Building had been executed, including 62 workspace agreements and 75 coworking memberships — an impressive feat given the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses. The team anticipates that these numbers will fluctuate with local and national recovery efforts.

Colliers International, the property management firm at Pittsburgh Yards, is continuing to engage with business owners interested in leasing space. Private tours are offered every Thursday between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Interested parties may sign up online to reserve a spot.

Looking Ahead at Pittsburgh Yards

The first segment of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Southside Trail recently opened at Pittsburgh Yards. This one-mile stretch runs from the southern terminus of the Westside Trail at University Avenue to Pittsburgh Yards, just west of the I-75/I-85 overpass, and connects with three other open and emerging job centers: Murphy Crossing, the Met and Lee + White. It’s anticipated that the new addition will bring more patrons to Pittsburgh Yards and enable greater access to residents in nearby communities.

Approximately 16 acres remain available for future development at Pittsburgh Yards, in addition to the five building-ready sites created in this first phase. A market study will be conducted to determine effective uses of this land and inform plans for development.

“There’s a role for everyone to play in fully realizing the vision of Pittsburgh Yards,” says Forstall. “We need more investors to bring the next phases of construction to life. We need our local dreamers and doers to bring their talents to The Nia Building. And, we need community members to support these enterprises and patronize the fantastic businesses that call Pittsburgh Yards home.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH YARDS

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