April 14, 2022
The woman who was the face of Pittsburgh’s redevelopment for nearly three years said goodbye to public sector service and announced the imminent arrival of a landmark career development program in the city.
Diamonte Walker has served as deputy director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority since 2019, largely publicly overshadowing executive director Greg Flisram by leading board meetings and announcing new approaches like the Paths of Hope initiative to revitalize black business districts.
Starting Monday, she will lead the launch of Pittsburgh Scholar House, a Louisville, Ky. branch. House of Family Scholars. This program helps single parents earn college degrees and establish economic stability in their homes.
At Walker’s last URA board meeting on Thursday, Flisram said he was hired in late 2019 with the expectation that he would mentor Diamonte and then hand him the keys. It didn’t happen that way. “Diamonte basically took me under her wing, actually,” he said, and she became “my confidante, my main collaborator, my consiglieri, my main sounding board.”
Walker said little other than to thank the URA board and staff.
At an event on March 31 at the new Great Pittsburgh Catapult located in the Hill District, Walker and incoming Mayor Ed Gainey provided a more detailed assessment of its mandate and philosophy.
“I strongly believe that regardless of your zip code, you have the right to live a life of quality, to live a life of excellence, and to achieve your highest aspirations,” Walker said at the time.
She described the mix of skills required to marry real estate development with human success. “Sometimes you’re a mathematician. Sometimes you’re a scientist. Sometimes you’re an artist. But always, we’re alchemists. We take land and turn it into gold.”
At that event, Gainey said Walker “took over an organization that was in transition, in the midst of a lot of change, and your leadership never gave up. … Out of chaos, you created structure.”
He added: “I don’t think the URA would be positioned where it is now without your contact.”
Walker was initially tasked, when she was hired at the URA in 2017, with transforming her contracts with minority and women-owned businesses. She joined the agency after two years at Hill Community Development Corp.
She leaves at a time when the URA is facing a turnover in its ranks.
According to a list provided to PublicSource by the URA last week, 61 of the agency’s 112 employees have been hired since Jan. 1, 2020.
Departures over 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, Director of Neighborhood Development
- Paul Leger, acting director of the Pittsburgh Land Bank.
Flisram declined to be asked about staff turnover. In an email, he wrote that the URA is not alone in going through “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 took place via Zoom.
The board took two substantive steps.
- He voted to transfer five lots to the Middle Hill district and to approve a $260,000 grant from the Housing Opportunity Fund, for the construction by R. Kyndall Development Group of six houses, two of which will be reserved for sale to low-income families.
- He voted to sell, for $1, three lots in Fairywood to the Regional Industrial Development Corp. non-profit, for the development of one or two warehouses in which the URA will retain a partial stake. RIDC said it was pursuing a lease with a potential tenant, who has not been named.
This article was produced by PublicSource.org, a nonprofit news organization serving the Pittsburgh area. PublicSource tells stories for a better Pittsburgh. Sign up for their free email newsletters at publicsource.org/newsletters.