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Pittsburgh’s Downtown will soon see an expanded space dedicated to starting and accelerating Black businesses through mentorship and networking.

The Greenwood Plan, a Black-founded and Black-led nonprofit committed to advancing economic justice for Black communities through education, networking and resources, recently acquired the Pitt Building on the corner of Smithfield Street and Boulevard of the Allies through Greenwood Smithfield LLC, its subsidiary company. 

Founded in 2021 by Khamil Bailey and Samantha Black, the Greenwood Plan developed from a one-week Black entrepreneurial conference called Greenwood Week. That program began in 2018 and brought local entrepreneurs together to share experiences and resources.

“People believed that, ‘If someone comes from the same place as me and had similar hurdles, I could also do that thing,’” says Bailey, the executive director. “From that, we decided to expand into year-round programming, and that’s how the nonprofit came to be.”

The Black Business Conference, Greenwood Week, occurs each October. The conference includes networking, performances and classes that fall under five pillars of health: environmental, physical, mental, financial and spiritual. 

“It’s almost our pep rally for the year,” Bailey adds. “Everybody gets riled up about starting a business, running a business and exploring business.”

The Greenwood Plan focuses on intentional resource redirection, economic justice, business growth and sustainment and socioeconomic guidance. The aim is to eliminate barriers for Black entrepreneurs.

In addition to its Greenwood Week conference, the Greenwood Plan hosts industry-specific summits and recently added an arts organizing program for creative entrepreneurs. It also provides $500 mini-grants to Black businesses to alleviate business costs.

It works with the state’s Department of General Services to help Black businesses win state contracts. It also collaborates with the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Bridgeway Capital.

Shannel Lamere first attended a Greenwood Week conference in 2019 and began doing film and photography for Greenwood. She now owns and operates Shannel Lamere Films.

“She has grown with us over the past four years,” Bailey says. “People will give their talent, their treasure and come to us when they need things that we can provide, which a lot of the time is audience.”

Permanent space for Black business acceleration

Greenwood Smithfield LLC purchased the Pitt Building, located on the corner of Smithfield Street and Boulevard of the Allies. (Photo courtesy of the Greenwood Plan)

Bailey received a LinkedIn message shortly after founding the Greenwood Plan in 2021 from the manager of the America’s Club co-working space, formerly in the Pitt Building. The club was looking to bring in more diverse entrepreneurs. After a tour, the Greenwood Plan became a member.

“We found ourselves making coffee, straightening up and tidying the space, and just greeting people when they came in the door,” Bailey says. “So we took a bit of ownership in it.”

In November 2021, the Greenwood Plan took out a lease on the space, renaming it Emerald City Pittsburgh. The 12,000-foot co-working space is dedicated to boosting Black entrepreneurship and wealth. That is when Bailey learned of other vacancies in the building. 

“We thought if we’re going to fill up the vacancy, we probably should just own the building,” she adds.

The effort received $1 million from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The space will become an incubation and accelerator space with commercial storefronts, mentorship programs and networking opportunities for Black business owners. 

Russell General Contracting, a Black-owned family business, is leading the consulting for renovating the building.

In addition to Emerald City, the three-story building has a Cricket Wireless store and a mutual aid nonprofit. The third floor, which is currently a gym, is slated to become an event and assembly space.

A rendering of the third-floor event space in the Pitt Building. The space has vaulted ceilings and skylights and is planned to be bookable for events like weddings and performances. (Photo courtesy of the Greenwood Plan)

“It has vaulted ceilings and breathtaking skylights,” Bailey adds. “We always knew this would be the next space for the building because people need to get their eyes on it.”

Third-floor renovations are scheduled to begin in February. 

Pittsburgh has a rich history of Black entrepreneurship. Bailey says that is at the forefront of creating the new space and ensuring that business leaders get the support they need.

“We want to remind people of the history that has already existed here,” Bailey says. “Black entrepreneurship is not new. Out of necessity, Black entrepreneurship has thrived.

“We’re at a point now where it is necessary again for Black entrepreneurship to grow to be able to take care of the communities that exist here.”

Ethan Woodfill is a freelance journalist interested in telling the stories of people doing great things to build community and sustainability.

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