G-20 gives the Triangle a golden chance to make an impression
In addition to hashing out the global economy, the Group of 20 summit also could help Pittsburgh finally wash away its lore of soot-churning steel mills choking the shores of the three rivers.
"I admit that, on a national and global level, we have an image problem," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said. "Some people believe that Pittsburgh is still an old and dirty town, but we know that's not the case."
The city's 250th birthday celebration last year attracted widespread attention, as did hosting baseball's 2006 All-Star Game and golf's 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. This year's parades for the Steelers and Penguins were well documented, as Pittsburgh renewed its claim as the "City of Champions."
But nothing compares to the spotlight the G-20 will shine on the region, civic leaders and marketing experts say.
"It's a very rare opportunity to focus the world on Pittsburgh," said Andy Masich, president and CEO of the Sen. John Heinz History Center. "People will see that Pittsburgh no longer is the 'smoky city' but a place with a long history of innovation."
The Big Mac and jeep originated in Western Pennsylvania, Masich said. Jonas Salk and researchers at the University of Pittsburgh invented a polio vaccine in 1955. Carnegie Mellon University today is a leader in robotics research and one of 35 colleges and universities in the region.
"There will be photographs of Pittsburgh in every newspaper around the world," said Dewitt Peart, vice president of Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. "That's tremendously valuable in terms of changing perceptions."
The alliance hopes to use the G-20 to market Western Pennsylvania as a site for international businesses and to attract individual workers, Peart said.
More than 4,000 journalists are expected to be in town to cover the G-20. The Allegheny Conference plans to work with reporters to maximize Pittsburgh's global exposure.
"We are going to showcase the city and its story," Allegheny Conference spokesman Philip Cynar said.
The impact of the two-day event in late September could last for years, said Audrey Guskey, a Duquesne University marketing professor.
"The value of the G-20 coming to Pittsburgh• Absolutely priceless," Guskey said. "In a sense, we're going to be able to open all the doors and windows to the world and show what this city has."
A Sports Illustrated article from 1979, when Pittsburgh first was dubbed the "City of Champions," noted it might take "another generation or so for the city to free itself completely from an image that endured too long."
That metamorphosis appears to be on schedule.
A city described in 1868 by author James Parton as "hell with the lid taken off" and six years earlier by novelist Anthony Trollope as "the blackest place I ever saw" has a new story to tell.
This fall's summit will be a time the city can silence critics and show off how much it has changed, Ravenstahl said.
"Our problem always has been getting people here," Ravenstahl said. "Now that they're coming, we've already won. Once they come, they can see for themselves the extent of what Pittsburgh is all about."