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Arts & Entertainment

Fund-raiser turns Cultural District spots into eateries

| Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004

Interior designers have transformed six sites in the Cultural District into "restaurants for a night" in an effort to raise money and interest in growth of the area.

They are part of a Cultural Trust fund-raiser, "Savor the District: A Downtown DineAround Adventure," put together to benefit the Trust and generate enthusiasm for expansion of the Cultural District.

"It's about friend-raising as well as fund raising," says J. Kevin McMahon, president and chief executive officer of the Cultural Trust. "We want to provide a taste of what goes on Downtown as well as perhaps perking some imagination."

In the program, dinner will be available at six sites. Four are vacant and available for full-time transformation. Two others are Cultural District fixtures taking an evening off their usual duties to be homes to one-night-only eateries. They are at 121 and 131 Seventh St., 801 and 812 Liberty Ave., the Pittsburgh Opera headquarters and the Wood Street Galleries.

The evening will begin with cocktails at the Benedum Center, move to dinner and finish with a "Late Set" at the Benedum featuring Sam Moore, half of the famous rhythm-and-blues duo Sam and Dave.

The dining spots have been transformed through the work of design crews from Astorino, Denham Vatalie Associates, Hillman Interiors, Kolano Design, Brigette Pavlik Interior, Garth Massingill and Navarro Associates. Chefs from restaurants and caterers around the city -- Cafe Zao, Fresh Catering, Rania's Catering, The Duquesne Club, Aromas Catering and Michael Lench Catering -- are creating the dinners and lending their expertise.

Diane Stein, a project manager from Astorino, transformed the gym-like confines of an opera center rehearsal hall into a star-speckled dining area for 88.

"It's all about the glow," she says of the room with a crimson hue.

"We're trying to show off the district," says Nancy Byrnes, a spokeswoman for the event. "These places could be restaurants for a night or for a 10-year lease."

Obviously, the opera and Wood Street Galleries locations are not being considered for that. They are part of the plan just to show off the district.

They are a way of "mixing it up and not providing the same-old, same-old," he says.

McMahon says the effort already has met its goal of raising $400,000.

In many ways, "Savor the District" is similar to "Walk & Dine: A Downtown Living Tour," held in May by the Downtown Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Living Initiative as a way of touting the heart of the city as a place to live.

"Now we want to get the storefronts happening," Byrnes says. "We want to show off these spaces not only as possible restaurants but as boutiques, shops and clubs, too."

McMahon says the big difference between the two events is that this one also offers "a full-blown, sit-down dinner and a show afterwards at the Benedum."

Bill Johnson, president and chief executive officer of H.J. Heinz Co., and his wife, Susie, are chairing the event.

"Over two decades, the Trust has transformed the District into a cultural gem and one of our region's premier destinations," Bill Johnson says.

Susie Johnson calls the program "unique" in the way it will provide dinner and entertainment "as well as introduce many people to the Cultural District."

She expects about 500 people to take part and says the event has become "bigger and better" than its original concept.

Additional Information:


'Savor the District'

When : 6 p.m. today

Admission : $500 single ticket; $10,000 to $5,000 for tables of eight; $50 for Late Set

Where : Beginning at Benedum Center, Downtown

Details : (412) 471-8710

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