Former Urban Redevelopment Authority attorney Carl Cooper has been lured out of retirement and named chairman of the Greater Hill District Growth Development Fund Advisory Committee and will manage the distribution of $3 million earmarked to revitalize the Hill District.
The committee, which includes representatives from several community organizations including William Generett, Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone; Bonnie Young Laing, Hill District Consensus Group; Richard Witherspoon, Hill District Federal Credit Union; Jules Matthews, Hill House Economic Development Corp.; Marimba Milliones, Hill Community Development Corp.; Kimberly Ellis, Historic Hill Institute; Rev. Johnny Monroe, Schenley Heights Development Program; and Rev. Glenn R. Grayson, Wesley Center AMEZ Church., named Cooper director Oct. 13.
“People asked why I would do this—you’re retired, have a place in Jamaica. Why do this,” Cooper said. “When I hear that I think of what Bobby Kennedy said about seeing things as they could be and asking why not. There’s a lot of positive activity in the Hill, why not help.”
As a partner with the Philadelphia firm of Eaton and McClennen, Cooper worked extensively in real estate and commercial transaction law before joining the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh law school in 1977.
With additional experience as the URA’s director of real estate, Cooper not only knows the law, but the neighborhood and its potential for development.
The funds, about half of which are currently on deposit at the Poise Foundation, were given by the Rivers Casino per an agreement made with original casino developer Don Barden, who included it in his application for the city’s only gaming license. The Hill is to receive its $3 million in five yearly installments. A similar amount was given to the Northside Leadership Conference.
Cooper said he would be starting from scratch to set up the mechanisms and procedures needed to allocate these funds to qualified development projects—starting with setting up the Development Fund Committee as a legal, nonprofit entity. And he has no funds for overhead.
“I do have an office though, thanks to (Common Pleas Court) Judge Joe Williams. He is letting me use the top two floors of his Manchester offices for a few weeks until I set up a Hill address,” he said. “I’ll be applying for corporate and foundation grants, (state Rep.) Jake Wheatley is letting me borrow an intern. I’ll get there.”
In addition to incorporating, the nuts and bolts of Cooper’s job will involve setting procedures for how applications are submitted, seeing that they meet criteria, and determining timelines for submissions and decisions.
“And the whole thing has to be transparent,” he said. “I also have to get up to speed on the Hill Master Plan, get the vision of the committee and stakeholder, reconnect with folks at the URA, at the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development and the city Housing Authority.”
Even though getting the Committee certified as a nonprofit takes 18 months, Cooper said it could start doing business once the application is submitted. He said, optimistically, the committee could be ready to accept project proposals within eight months.
“Yes that’s optimistic, but people have been waiting a long time for this money to be used,” he said. “I will try to be as expeditious as possible.”
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