Mayor Ed Gainey’s team solidified its control of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and the agency bounded into a new role: supplying venture capital to entrepreneurs who have traditionally been shut out of investment funds.

The URA board voted to name as its chair Kyle Chintalapalli, the Gainey administration’s chief economic development officer. He replaces Sam Williamson, the district leader of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, who chaired the board for three years. 

Williamson said he was proud to be a part of the URA’s evolution into a tool “that can intervene in our local economy to produce outcomes that the economy itself, the free market itself, won’t produce,” like affordable housing, revived minority business districts and better opportunities for service workers.

Williamson remains on the board.

Chintalapalli is a throwback to the pre-Williamson era in which top mayoral aides often chaired the pivotal board.

The new chair said he’d continue to move the URA — which used to focus on financing large renewal projects — further into its recent role as a champion of equity and opportunity. “We stand to gain so much more in working together to advance an inclusive growth platform and achieving a Pittsburgh for all,” he said.

The board approved a $15.1 million operating budget, which marks a big jump from last year’s $12.6 million spending plan. Federal American Rescue Plan Act money is expected to cover the increase.

The board’s first major moves involved pledging roughly $5 million toward a quartet of investment programs.

  • Main Street Ventures plans to make $1.3 million in investments into minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises [MWBEs], notably including those in the seven Avenues of Hope business districts.
  • The Pittsburgh Entrepreneur Fund will invest as much as $1 million, also in MWBEs, in deals that will also include money from traditional venture capital firms.
  • The Venture Capital Program will place as much as $750,0000 in URA funding into existing, private venture funds whose missions are aligned with the URA’s.
  • The MWBE Developer Equity Fund Pilot Program intends to invest as much as $2 million across multiple projects pursued by diverse developers.

Several board members noted that Pittsburgh has a poor track record for creating minority-owned businesses. 

“So much of it has to do with lack of access to capital,” said Daniel Lavelle, a Pittsburgh City Council member chosen as the URA board’s vice chair. “So for us to bring this to bear is very, very, very critical.”

Pittsburgh Councilman Daniel Lavelle, now vice chair of the Urban Redevelopment Board, speaks while the URA staff shows a slide describing three new URA Ventures programs, in a Zoom meeting. (Screenshot)

“We’re stepping into sort of a place that we shouldn’t necessarily have to,” Lavelle added, noting that he hoped banks, business groups and other private sector investors would either follow the URA’s lead or add their own funds to the agency’s pots.

The URA also hopes to make returns on the investments, officials said.

The five-member board approved the programs unanimously.

The board also gave its OK to:

  • A $620,000 grant to help the City of Bridges Community Land Trust to build four for-sale houses on Chatsworth Avenue in Hazelwood. It will cost a total of around $2.1 million to build the houses, which will be reserved for low-income households for 99 years.
  • A $1.25 million loan to the owners of Prestigious Hills, a low-income housing community in East Hills, as part of a $24 million financing package for the renovation of 117 units in 29 buildings.
  • A $690,000 loan toward the $4.85 million renovation of 23 units in the Stanton Highland Apartments, in East Liberty.
An Urban Redevelopment Authority staff member describes to the URA board plans to build four new houses on Hazelwood’s Chatsworth Avenue, for sale to households with modest incomes, in a Zoom meeting. (Screenshot)

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at rich@publicsource.org or on Twitter @richelord.

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Rich is the managing editor of PublicSource. He joined the team in 2020, serving as a reporter focused on housing and economic development and an assistant editor. He reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...