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Pittsburgh basks in refurbished image as must-see destination

Pittsburgh's transformation

Downtown

Point State Park

In May 2012, replacing the damaged pump to the fountain, which had been inoperable since July 2009, is the last phase of a $42 million, four-year renovation. The Fort Pitt Museum is located in the 36-acre park at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, forming the Ohio River.

David L. Lawrence Convention Center

The first “green” convention center in the world was designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects of New York. It has hosted more than 2,100 events with over 4.3 million visitors. It has 313,000 square feet of exhibit space, 37 loading docks, 53 meeting rooms and a ballroom.

Cultural District

The 14-square-block district in the heart of Downtown has retail shops, restaurants, seven world-class theaters, eight public parks and art installations and a dozen art galleries. It attracts 2 million people annually for ballet, opera, symphony, public theater and other entertainment.

Consol Energy Center

The multipurpose indoor arena along Fifth Avenue, Uptown, is home to the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and the Arena Football League's Pittsburgh Power. Opened Aug. 18, 2010, it has a seating capacity of 19,758. A statue on Centre Avenue, “Le Magnifique,” depicts Mario Lemieux's 247th career goal. It is the city's sixth bronze statue.

Three PNC Plaza

This Louis D. Astorino skyscraper on Fifth Avenue, Downtown, completed in 2009, has 23 floors, making it the tallest building constructed in the city since Highmark Tower was completed in 1988. It complements One PNC Plaza, Two PNC Plaza, One Oxford Centre and Fifth Avenue Place.

Market Square Place

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership promotes this as a hot destination with eateries, boutiques, public art, free concerts and a farmers market. Designated a historic landmark, it underwent major renovation from 2009 to 2010 to transform the square at Forbes Avenue and Market Street into a European-style piazza.

Piatt Place

On Fifth Avenue between Wood and Smithfield streets, this former Lazarus department store was redeveloped into luxury condominiums, Class A+ office space and retail shops. It complements other residences such as The Pennsylvanian, Gateway Towers, The Encore on 7th, Clark Building Apartments, Cork Factory Lofts and Heinz Lofts.

August Wilson Center for African American Culture

Named for the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, the debt-ridden, $40 million facility that opened in 2009 fell into foreclosure in 2013; a judge appointed a receiver. The ultramodern center on Liberty Avenue has a theater, gallery, classrooms and dance studio.

North Shore

PNC Park

The fifth home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the $216 million baseball park along the Allegheny River opened March 31, 2001, with a natural grass field, seating capacity of 38,496, riverside concourse, local eateries and view of Downtown. It logged record attendance of 40,493 on Oct. 7, 2013.

Heinz Field

The $281 million stadium, with grass field and seating for 65,050 at the confluence of the Ohio and Allegheny rivers, opened in 2001 as home to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers. It has merchandise, memorabilia, eateries and 60 murals from area high schools that won football championships.

Rivers Casino

Built by the Ohio River next to the Carnegie Science Center, it opened Aug. 9, 2009, with 3,000 slot machines and added table games. It has restaurants, nightclub entertainment, a players club, gift shop and garage. No one under 21 is permitted on the property, once home to a steel mill and warehouse. Reported construction cost: $300 million.

Andy Warhol Museum

On Sandusky Street, the museum is the largest in the country dedicated to a single artist. Founded by the pop artist's older brother, John Warhola, and designed by New York architect Richard Gluckman, it opened May 15, 1994. Its permanent collection has more than 8,000 Warhol works and extensive archives of his life.

Other

Strip District

The one-half-square-mile shopping district bordering Downtown and Lawrenceville neighborhoods is billed as “gritty” and “authentic,” with ethnic grocers, produce stands, meat and fish markets, and sidewalk vendors. Concern about a historic building put Buncher Co.'s proposed $450 million office and residential development on hold this year.

Station Square

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation developed the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad complex in the South Side into shops, restaurants and nightclubs in 1976. Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises bought the property in 1994 for $25.5 million and has hired CBRE Inc. to market it. The site houses a Sheraton hotel and an amphitheater.

Washington's Landing

Once Herr's Island on the Allegheny River, the place where George Washington slept when his raft capsized is a successful brownfield-to-residential development. The work in the 1980s and 1990s transformed a stockyard into homes, office buildings, trails and a marina, with an entrance from the refurbished 31st Street Bridge.

Related Stories
By Salena Zito and Chris Togneri
Saturday, May 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

James Craft, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business, moved to Pittsburgh in 1972. His 17th-floor office in the Cathedral of Learning looked down on the urban campus and Fifth Avenue.

“But I had to close that window every afternoon,” Craft recalled. “The old J&L Steel plant was pumping out smoke” from its mill along the Monongahela River. The air reeked of burning coal.

By 1984, the steel industry that clouded Craft's view and dominated the city's economy was gone. Six years earlier, it employed more than 90,000 people in Western Pennsylvania. Then, as hundreds of thousands of people moved away, the city's unemployment rate soared to 17 percent.

Thirty years later, much has changed economically and cosmetically.

Soot no longer mars the Cathedral of Learning's limestone. Pitt and neighboring Carnegie Mellon University dominate Oakland, drawing researchers, tech startups and young people. UPMC is the state's largest private employer with a workforce of about 62,000.

The city — its economy diversified in technology, energy, health care, education and finance — has an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent, well below the national average. Hiking and biking trails line its riverbanks. Landmark neighborhoods such as the gritty, unique Strip District or the busy Cultural District anchor its Downtown.

Along the way, the city built sports stadiums, skyscrapers and a “green” convention center, and renovated Point State Park — decisions that were not always popular with taxpayers.

Yet with recent rankings such as “A Top 10 City for Achieving the American Dream” and “No. 1 Best City to Relocate to in the U.S.,” Pittsburgh basks in a refurbished image as a must-see destination. People come for vacations, education, careers, to raise families.

No one had a defined strategy to bring us to this point, according to Jim Rohr, former executive chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group Inc. Rohr was among those who helped to transform the city, as his leadership took PNC from a regional bank to one with about 2,700 branches in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

“There was no plan, and there certainly was no messiah,” Rohr told the Tribune-Review. “What we did have were people who worked together in a way that has really been quite remarkable, but not one of them took us from where we were in 1984 to where we are today.

“It was a patchwork of events that came together.”

“We are the ‘overnight sensation' that was 30 years in the making,” said Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Not ‘like Detroit'

In 1970, 15 Fortune 500 companies had headquarters in Pittsburgh — more than any city except Chicago and New York, according to a 2012 Harvard Business School study on Pittsburgh. Many of those corporations moved elsewhere, though PNC, H.J. Heinz Co., PPG Industries, U.S. Steel Corp. and others remain.

Several “emergent economies” took steel's place in Pittsburgh, Pitt's Craft said, and other companies have headquarters in the region: Allegheny Technologies, Mylan, Wesco International, Dick's Sporting Goods, Consol Energy, EQT Corp., American Eagle Outfitters and Kennametal.

“It wasn't like Detroit, where everyone walked out at once and left the city bankrupt,” he said. “The economy shifted, but we made a very interesting transformation.”

Civic leaders — not just in government but in corporate boardrooms, foundations, universities, labor unions — worked on the transformation.

“We had mayors and politicians who were interested in our image and living conditions,” Craft said. “They changed the structure of Downtown; they focused on The Point. They made the city more attractive. ... We started moving in another direction, and now it's growing again.”

Former Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said people in other cities sometimes call Pittsburgh leaders wanting “the recipe for the secret sauce.”

“There was no recipe,” he said, just “a collaborative effort.”

Culture as a catalyst

Some analysts say it took hold with the Cultural District.

David Caliguiri was just a kid when his dad was Pittsburgh's mayor, but he remembers his father's challenge to transform the city in the 1980s.

“It wasn't just an economic transformation — the physical transformation was equally important,” said Caliguiri, 41, a public affairs consultant. Mayor Richard Caliguiri, who died in 1988, and others wanted to utilize the city's natural assets, his son said.

Heinz CEO John Heinz II believed a “cultural district” would be the catalyst to drive development and attract people. In 1971, largely because of him and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts opened in the old Loew's Penn Theater on Penn Avenue in a $10 million renovation.

Heinz next wanted to close the vice-ridden bars around it.

“There was no cultural district, only Heinz Hall and the old convention center, and a red-light district that stretched the 14 blocks in between,” Rohr said.

Many Pittsburghers wondered: How could the arts alone bring people into the city, when the trend was to escape to suburbs?

But Heinz exerted pressure until foundations, business executives and government officials agreed to form and fund The Cultural Trust, a nonprofit organization tasked with improving those Downtown blocks.

“I would argue that, if we had not redone the Cultural District, then Alcoa would have never moved its headquarters across the river to the North Side, the new housing attached to that would not be there, the new ‘green' convention center would have never been built, or the stadiums,” Rohr said.

Successes, failures

Some decisions — notably the bundling of tax dollars for the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, PNC Park and Heinz Field — became so divisive that public scrutiny led to public fights. Through hotel and sales tax, ticket surcharges, parking revenue and other money, the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority in 1998 developed the “destination financing plan” to raise $1 billion for those projects.

“It was all based on trust,” said Jack Shea, president of Allegheny County Labor Council. “None of this would have happened had there not been that notion that we were all in it together, we all had to make sacrifices, and we all had to take some heat from the organizations we represented.”

The Cultural District's theaters, restaurants, shops, parks and art galleries draw an estimated 2 million people a year, according to the Trust's website.

“I always found it fascinating that at the city's darkest hours, the city leaders said, ‘We are not down for the count,' ” said Kevin McMahon, who became the Trust's second director 12 years ago.

The first attempt to expand the convention center and replace Three Rivers Stadium with a ballpark and a football stadium failed when voters rejected, 2-to-1, a proposed sales tax referendum.

Then-Mayor Tom Murphy and former County Commissioners Bob Cranmer and Mike Dawida devised a “Plan B,” to use money from the hotel tax, ticket surcharges and Regional Asset District. RAD supports “assets” with half the proceeds of an additional 1 percent sales tax in the county.

“We took a lot of heat for it,” said Murphy, who tells people now: “The key is we took risks.”

Not all of the grand plans worked out.

A Murphy-backed plan — to transform Fifth and Forbes avenues Downtown, starting with the taxpayer-subsidized Lazarus and Lord & Taylor department stores — failed or never materialized.

And Pittsburgh International Airport, considered a top hub when built 20 years ago, languishes with post-9/11 underutilization. Its US Airways hub is gone.

Endless possibilities

In February 2013, officials closed a deal worth potentially $500 million with Cecil-based Consol Energy for natural gas drilling on airport property.

Energy has gained a foothold as a leading industry in Western Pennsylvania through gas drilling in the Marcellus shale. But financial services, advanced manufacturing, technology, life sciences and health care remain important aspects of Pittsburgh's economy, analysts say.

Though Murphy's plan to change the makeup of businesses along Fifth, Forbes and Wood streets failed, Caliguiri believes Downtown remains healthy, “thanks in large part to PNC's decision to not only keep its headquarters in the city but to build new skyscrapers.”

Rohr, who spent 40 years with PNC, believes “the possibilities are endless” for Pittsburgh.

“We haven't even addressed how important the shale industry is going to be for generations to come,” he said.

If a main industry, such as steel or energy, collapses, it's only natural for residents to seek a savior, said Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, who will return to The Heinz Endowments as its head in June.

When that happened in Pittsburgh, however, residents stopped waiting and started doing, Oliphant said.

“We are not a city that waits for a leader. We have become a city where people take charge of the things they want to make happen,” he said.

“I don't know of anything on this scale, in any other American city, where we've gone from parking lots and forgotten roadways to beautiful riverfronts and significant stadiums, significant new buildings, and a significant, world-class riverfront. ... It's an example of the community coalescing around a vision.”

Salena Zito and Chris Togneri are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Zito at szito@tribweb.com and Togneri at ctogneri@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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