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First day of G-20 Summit brings eerie calm Downtown

Luis Fábregas
| Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009

Just about the only sound that could be heard Downtown Thursday morning was the clippity-clop of horses used by officers to patrol the streets.

"I like how they click their feet," said Jaivaunn Harrison, 6, of Manchester, who was walking on the center of Sixth Avenue with her aunt, Nora Johnson.

Day 1 of the Group of 20 Summit brought an eerie, movie-like feeling to Downtown streets, with massive barricades blocking virtually every intersection. Police guarded street corners and officers in riot gear walked along the Allegheny River near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

A few protesters distributed pamphlets. Drivers stood by black vehicles as they awaited delegates in front of most hotels.

Some of the few workers and visitors who ventured into town walked in the middle of the street, since traffic was shut out from usually busy areas such as Grant Street.

"It feels like it's Sunday morning," said Millicent Smith, a legal secretary who was volunteering for the G-20 Partnership's Welcome Center.

Some visitors snapped pictures of emergency workers standing on corners. Alma Yarbrough carried a $7 disposable camera she bought at CVS to show her family the historic event.

"I think it's beautiful that the world is here," said Yarbrough, 54, a nurse who lives in Stanton Heights.

National and international journalists streamed into the convention center and set shop at a massive media center, where Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Executive Dan Onorato made morning appearances.

Between interviews with Russian and Chinese television stations, Ravenstahl reminded local residents that Pittsburgh remains open for business.

"Downtown is open, despite the fact that a lot of folks decided to stay home today," Ravenstahl said.

Saying his next stop would be the Emergency Operations Center, the mayor noted that by early afternoon there had been no significant problems with protesters. People are free to speak their minds, he said, adding that police officers would "draw the line" at anyone breaking the law.

"If you had the intention of coming to Pittsburgh to protest or speak your mind ... you have the opportunity to do that," Ravenstahl told a Russian camera crew.

Onorato does not believe the blocked-off streets and other restrictions will affect the image Pittsburgh is trying to present to those attending the G-20 summit.

"For the little bit of time they're actually in town, they're going to see some of the assets that make us special," Onorato said.

That includes both the convention and the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens where President Barack Obama will host a working dinner tonight.

"They're going to see the venues that they wanted to see," Onorato said. The county executive and his wife are scheduled to attend that dinner.

As for the $3.5 million price tag Allegheny County is paying for security, Onorato cited "the multiplier effect of all the advertising we get from the world." He also reiterated his belief that the county will be fully reimbursed for costs it will spend during the summit.

Contributors: Luis Fábregas, Andrew Conte and Patrick Cloonan

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