PITTSBURGH — For 50 years, an old school building sat empty, but now it will be transformed into a new community event space, the Celebration Hall of Larimer.
The inside of the old Larimer School had boarded windows, a decaying roof, and overgrown landscaping outside.
“The auditorium, and theatre were a mess, it was a great hang-out for pigeons,” said Joe Bute, the president of Food21, and community partner.
A historic landmark, once on the chopping block until residents intervened.
“The community stated we need someplace where we can have a venue,” said Donna Jackson, the executive director for the Larimer Consensus Group.
The old school which sat empty for 50 years would get a new chapter; in 2014, when the Larimer/East Liberty Choice Neighborhoods grant was awarded for 30 million dollars. The grant funded a three-acre park, new affordable housing both the Cornerstone Village Apartments, and the transformation of the school into apartment units. However, there was no plan for the attached gym and theatre until the Larimer Consensus Group and Food21 advocated for the creation of the Celebration Hall of Larimer, a fitting name for a space that will serve as a community hub.
“One of the things I think people believe is that Black people want to be poor that’s not true. This is a celebration for a community that hasn’t been invested in, in 50 years or more,” Jackson said.
The renovation to the gym and theatre will cost an estimated $7 million and will now serve as a space for community members to host gatherings big and small.
“This space is approximately 10,000 square feet,” Bute said.
The space is equipped with a commercial kitchen, banquet hall, and multipurpose space. The event center will also allow Black entrepreneurs a space to grow their businesses through a preferred vendor list, which means caterers, florists, DJs, and so many others will now have a space to call home.
Through a partnership with Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, graduates of Catapult’s Culinary program—a food incubator for minority entrepreneurs—will be added to an “approved vendor list” for the Celebration Hall that guests will choose from when they rent the space.
“There’s a lot of different ways that this is beneficial to the community at large from an entrepreneurial perspective to just getting a visual of what it looks like to go from surviving to thriving,” said Tammy Thompson, the executive director of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh.
Organizers said that the hall will be ready by summer 2024.
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