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Pittsburgh hotels cater to movie stars and crews

| Friday, April 11, 2014, 6:42 p.m.
Omni William Penn
The foyer of the presidential suite at the Omni William Penn, the preferred accommodations of A-listers.
Director John Singleton (second from right) and Taylor Lautner (second from left) on the set of ABDUCTION.
Bruce Willis stayed at the William Penn hotel when he was shooting 'Striking Distance' in Pittsburgh. The 1993 movie co-starred Sarah Jessica Parker.
Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks shoot a scene in Pittsburgh for the 2010 movie 'The Next Three Days.'

As filmmakers continue to set their sights on the Steel City, area hotels are becoming accustomed to hosting movie A-listers and crews.

“When the (Pittsburgh) Film Office calls and says a film wants to come to Pittsburgh, we drop everything,” says Tom Hardy, past president of the Pittsburgh Hotel Association and current general manager of the Sheraton Station Square, which is undergoing a $15 million renovation. “It's become a very, very large part of our business.”

Hardy spoke on the topic during “The ‘Industry' Revolution: From Steel to Reel,” an event presented by Urban Land Institute Pittsburgh Young Leaders on April 8, which brought together people from Pittsburgh's film, hospitality and development arenas to look at the entertainment industry's impact on Western Pennsylvania.

Since 1990, Pittsburgh has welcomed more than 120 movies and TV productions, which have contributed an estimated $475 million into Western Pennsylvania since the implementation of the film tax credit in 2007. Pennsylvania offers a 25 percent tax credit to films that spend at least 60 percent of their total production budget in the Commonwealth.

The economic impact from films has had a direct effect on the region's hospitality industry — the film industry has booked an estimated 100,000 room nights in Pittsburgh hotels since 2007.

The Sheraton has hosted 25 percent of those stays. They've accommodated crews from films such as “Warrior,” “Abduction,” “The Road,” “Out of the Furnace” and more, and has served as a shooting locale for many. The Sheraton's Fountainview Room doubled as a CIA communications center in “Abduction.”

Hardy has watched the growth of Pittsburgh as an entertainment hot spot for years. He was working at the William Penn hotel at the VIP front desk when “Striking Distance” filmed in town in the early 1990s. When star Bruce Willis came to check in, he took one look at Hardy's name tag and laughed.

“He said, ‘Who put you up to this?' ” Hardy remembers. “Turns out all the characters were registered under their name in the movie.” Willis was starring as Sgt. Tom Hardy.

Dawn Keezer, film office executive director, says, while hotels don't typically publicize it when they host a celebrity, it sometimes become common knowledge during the stay.

Popular spots among the stars include the Fairmont Pittsburgh, where Tom Cruise stayed with former wife Katie Holmes and daughter Suri while the A-Lister shot scenes for “Jack Reacher.” The Renaissance is also a common celebrity haunt, with “Dark Knight Rises” director Director Christopher Nolan and his family staying there during shooting, Keezer says.

The presidential suite is the preferred room at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown, says Bob Page, director of sales and marketing.

“When we do have a high-profile person, there is a certain focus placed on them,” Page says. “We anticipate demands that are out of the ordinary. We're prepared.”

Some celebrities do have some out-there requests.

“One asked for an entire bathtub filled with champagne,” Page says. “Another celebrity wanted us to put an outdoor garden on the roof.

“Some are really laid-back and not as demanding as others. We had one actress stay — who did have a nanny and her children with her — who wasn't demanding at all. She didn't ask for a suite.”

Lisa Smith-Reed, chief operating officer of Steeltown Entertainment, a nonprofit dedicated to forging a vibrant entertainment industry locally, says when it comes to booking hotels for film crews, the most important things are access to food, WiFi and alcohol. That has a “waterfall effect” that impacts a multitude of businesses, including restaurants, retail stores and transportation services, she says.

“Whenever $1 is spent on a hotel room, two to two-and-a-half times that is spent in ancillary economic development,” she says.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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