The woman who has been the face of redevelopment in Pittsburgh for nearly three years said goodbye to public sector service and announced the impending arrival of a landmark career development program to the city.
Diamonte Walker has served as deputy director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority since 2019, largely publicly eclipsing Executive Director Greg Flisram by leading board meetings and announcing new approaches like the Avenues of Hope initiative to revive Black business districts.
Starting Monday, she will lead the launch of Pittsburgh Scholar House, an offshoot of Louisville, Ky.-based Family Scholar House. That program helps single parents to earn college degrees and establish economic stability for their households.
At Walker’s final URA board meeting Thursday, Flisram said he had been hired in late 2019 with the expectation that he would mentor Diamonte and then hand her the keys. It didn’t turn out that way. “Diamonte basically took me under her wing, as it turns out,” he said, and she became “my confidant, main collaborator, consiglieri, main sounding board.”
Walker said little, other than thanking the board and the URA’s staff.
At a March 31 event at the new Catapult Greater Pittsburgh location in the Hill District, Walker and new Mayor Ed Gainey provided a more detailed evaluation of her tenure and philosophy.
“I am a firm believer that regardless of your ZIP code, you are entitled to live a life of quality, to live a life of excellence and to have your highest aspirations come true,” Walker said then.
She described the mixture of skills required to marry real estate development with human achievement. “Sometimes you’re a mathematician. Sometimes you’re a scientist. Sometimes you’re an artist. But always, we are alchemists. We are taking land, and we are turning that into gold.”
At that event, Gainey said Walker “took over an organization that was in the midst of transition, in the midst of a lot of change, and your leadership never waivered. … Out of chaos, you created structure.”
He added: “I don’t think that the URA would be positioned where it is right now without your touch.”
Walker was initially charged, upon her hire at the URA in 2017, with transforming its contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses. She joined the agency after two years at the Hill Community Development Corp.
She leaves at a time when the URA faces turnover throughout its ranks.
According to a roster supplied to PublicSource by the URA last week, 61 of the agency’s 112 employees have been hired since Jan. 1, 2020.
Departures in the past two years include:
- Jessica Smith Perry, who led the agency’s housing development wing
- Tom Cummings, who was Smith Perry’s predecessor
- Susheela Nemani-Stanger, the director of neighborhood development
- Paul Leger, interim director of the Pittsburgh Land Bank.
Flisram declined to be interviewed regarding staff turnover. In an email, he wrote that the URA is not alone in navigating “this season of transition in the wake of a global pandemic” as “individuals seek fulfillment in new ways.”
Neither the board nor Flisram discussed the search for a new deputy director during the board meeting, which was conducted via Zoom.
The board took two substantive actions.
- It voted to transfer five lots in the Middle Hill District, and to approve a $260,000 Housing Opportunity Fund grant, for the construction by R. Kyndall Development Group of six houses, including two that will be reserved for sale to families of modest incomes.
- It voted to sell, for $1, three lots in Fairywood to the nonprofit Regional Industrial Development Corp., for the development of one or two warehouses in which the URA will maintain a partial ownership interest. RIDC said it was pursuing a lease with a prospective tenant, which was not named.
Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @richelord.
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