Joined by more than 20 supporters, Community Empowerment Association founder Rashad Byrdsong told the Urban Redevelopment Board their practices were detrimental to the Black community in Homewood.
Byrdsong apologized in advance for his comments prior to the start of the June 9 board meeting, then charged the authority had shafted him—mainly because there were no Blacks in high management positions since Mulu Birru left as director. He said Homewood has been ignored to the point where the business corridor “looks like 1968.”
“This is the politics you get down here where you pick who you want to work with,” said Byrdsong. “And people don’t want to work with me because I’m an activist and speak out.”
Byrdsong then charged the authority with trying to sell out from under him the building where his organization has operated for seven years.
“Rashad, we can’t do that,” said board chair Yarone Zober. “We don’t own the building. The (Homewood Brushton Revitalization and Development Corp.) owns that building. We can’t sell it.”
At that point, Sarah Campbell, one of only four remaining members of the HBRDC, said she was told by URA Real Estate Director Robert Rubenstein she couldn’t sell the property to Byrdsong without first getting competing bids.
“That’s when the (Alpha Phi Alpha) fraternity showed up and said they wanted to buy it,” she said. “But they didn’t have any money—they had a vision. But they had no programs, no employment plan. We can’t go on just faith. We know Rashad has the money, and that’s how we want to do business.”
Rubenstein said three creditors—one being the URA—would have to sign off on the sale. Zober indicated the authority would have no problem doing so.
“When the HBRDC decides on the sale, just let us know,” he told Campbell.
Though K. Chase Patterson attended the meeting as a representative of the Alpha fraternity, he left the meeting without making any comment.
When the meeting finally began, the board approved $100,000 in predevelopment funds for another project that would place a state of the art “green” building in Homewood.
The Café 524 project would showcase a geothermal energy system for others to emulate. Carnegie Mellon students and community partners hope that the café will help spur the rebirth of the Homewood business district and serve as a catalyst to create a sustainable, active community for the people of Homewood.
The building would include meeting, conference and office spaces on the upper floor and a café on the ground floor. Also partnering on the project are the Homewood Children’s Village and the National Black MBA Association.
Deborah Chapman-Edwards, president and owner of CSCI Management Consulting, who represented the MBA, said students from local colleges would work with the association to bolster businesses in the community and provide resources and advice.
She said students from Westinghouse High School, which has a culinary program, could also supply goods and services for the café, which will also offer opportunities for community youths who would work there and learn about operating a small business.
“So we’re looking at multi-generational business development,” she said. “We see this as catalytic, and we’re thrilled at the prospect.”
John Folan, who runs the Urban Design Studio at CMU, said the URA’s commitment will be helpful not only in completing environmental remediation but also in showing support for the project when they seek out foundation and grant funding to complete the $1.1 million renovation.
When completed, the building would include four 500-foot deep geothermal wells, and an “earth tube” running horizontally underground which would draw air, which is at a constant temperature, into the building for either heating or cooling. The building will also have an array of solar cells on the roof.
“It’s about catalyzing growth. This will be a space that will generate national attention due to its environmental aspect alone,” said Rev. Samuel Ware, from the Children’s Village. “This is another step in reclaiming the community.”
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