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Of stadiums and stages Featured

9:47am EDT July 22, 2002

Call it recreational diversity or quality of life or urban sophistication — every winning metropolitan area has it.

Unfortunately, robust technology, willing venture capitalists and capable workers cannot by themselves drive a community to national success or prominence.

The notion often is debated, but let’s face it — it’s often the “nonbusiness businesses” that provide character and spirit to a community and create a regional image that attracts people, ideas and investment, fueling an upward spiral of growth and prosperity.

For a city of its size, Pittsburgh has an unusually deep and diverse selection of such invaluable assets, and they play a major role in the vitality of the Southwestern Pennsylvania region.

Creating cultural treasures

One of the most influential of these organizations is The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a nationally celebrated collaboration of civic, cultural, political and philanthropic interests that together have changed the face of downtown Pittsburgh.

The Cultural Trust specializes in the creation, recovery and renovation of showcases for the arts.

“Through a number of capital projects throughout the Cultural District — Allegheny Riverfront Park, Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, Byham Theater, Harris Theater, Agnes R. Katz Plaza, O’Reilly Theater and Wood Street Galleries, as well streetscaping, facade restoration and public art, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has helped to transform a blighted section of the city into a world-class arts and entertainment district,” says Carol Brown, president of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

But it’s not just about turning a blighted section of the city into an entertainment district, she stresses.

“This is a catalyst for commercial development as we build critical mass within the Cultural District, attracting more than 1.2 million people to more than 1,200 events a year at the theaters and galleries,” she says. “Attracting more people to downtown creates a positive economic impact for the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County through sales tax, real estate and parking revenues as people shop, eat in local restaurants and spend dollars in addition to the cost of a ticket.”

Such attractions are drawing more people from outside the county. Says Brown, “Our last economic impact study showed that the number of people from outside Allegheny County has increased from 25 percent to 39 percent of our audience base, which reveals that Pittsburgh is becoming more of a destination for visitors, which can only benefit the local economy.”

Preserving and adapting historic resources

As befits a city that was an economic powerhouse during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Pittsburgh has an embarrassment of fabulous and fabled historic assets, so many that nobody can protect and preserve them all.

But one man is trying. Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF), is an advocate for the ancient, doggedly seeking to preserve the city’s architectural treasures and, in cases like Station Square, adapt them to contemporary use.

In that role, Ziegler is often at odds with developers who want to bulldoze and build new. He’s leading the opposition to Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy’s controversial plan to demolish and redevelop parts of the Forbes & Fifth Avenue corridor downtown.

Despite the sparring with City Hall over commercial and retail development in the heart of the Golden Triangle, Ziegler is upbeat about the Landmarks Foundation’s agenda for the new year and its comprehensive offering of upcoming historical events.

“We plan to continue to revitalize historic neighborhoods and increase our efforts to revitalize downtown Pittsburgh with a number of educational tours and related activities throughout the region,” Ziegler says.

He describes the organization as “a nonprofit preservation group serving Allegheny County. We are dedicated to identifying and preserving the architectural landmarks, historic neighborhoods and historic designed landscapes of Allegheny County, and educating people about the region’s architectural heritage and urban landscape design history.”

Says Zeigler: “Through its Preservation Loan Fund, brick-and-mortar projects, architectural surveys, feasibility studies, tours and events, and educational programs, Landmarks has been able to prove the economic and cultural value of historic preservation and articulate a realistic vision for Pittsburgh’s future based on an understanding of its past and an appreciation of its built environment.”

Baseball steps up to the plate

Although it lacks a National Basketball Association franchise and doesn’t get the attention it deserves from professional golf, Pittsburgh is blessed with major league sports that attract people, money and attention. Those factors favor the economic and recreational vitality of Southwestern Pennsylvania and bolster business efforts to recruit and retain skilled workers.

Kevin McClatchy, managing general partner and CEO of the Pittsburgh Pirates, says the Major League Baseball team turns a triple play on behalf of the local economy:

  • Construction of the Pirates’ PNC Stadium during 2000 and 2001 will pump more than $200 million into the economy, he notes. The majority of those dollars will go to local subcontractors, suppliers, craftsmen and laborers. And the presence of all those well-paid workers gives a hefty boost to restaurants, taverns and retail establishments in the stadium area.

  • Ongoing baseball operations — both at Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park after it opens in April 2001 — will provide continuing support for a variety of businesses that serve the stadium and the ball club. About 2 million fans attend Pirates’ home games in a typical year, spending money on parking, food, drink and other diversions as part of the experience.

  • It’s generally conceded that civic and urban authorities swung and missed when Three Rivers Stadium was developed in an urban vacuum with no amenities other than parking lots. With the new baseball-only ballpark as a catalyst, the surrounding Northside and North Shore communities have another chance to re-invent themselves with housing and businesses piggybacking on the general prosperity and infrastructure improvements centered on the ballyard.

Says McClatchy: “Aside from the economic benefits caused directly by baseball, the construction process at PNC Park alone is a major factor in the quality of life of the city — particularly in the immediately surrounding area. We hope to be a catalyst for development and see many of these buildings and properties bought up, renovated and adapted for better use.”

In the national spotlight

Take everything good about the Pirates stadium development and baseball operations and double it to calculate the impact of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most everything that applies to the Pirates and PNC Park holds true for the new Steelers stadium adjacent to the baseball park, scheduled to open in August 2001.

In addition to the dollars spent at and around the ball parks, there is a significant — though intangible — impact by major league sports that gives the city remarkable exposure in the national media during major sporting events.

Many marketing professionals in the region believe that the Steelers’ prominence on ABC-TV’s Monday Night and Thursday Night Football telecasts has done more to repair Pittsburgh’s “Smoky City” image than all the local civic and tourism initiatives put together.

Al Michaels, the don of Monday Night Football, seemingly never tires of guiding viewers through spectacular footage out the south portal of the Fort Pitt Tunnels, zooming in on Pittsburgh’s magnificent, brilliantly lit nightscape. Those introductory shots, married with the breathtaking aerial views provided by the hovering blimp during the three-hour telecasts, have left an indelible positive impression on the hearts and minds of tens of millions of viewers.

Do those impressions turn into business and tourism dollars? That’s impossible to say. But it certainly can’t hurt.

William McCloskey is a free-lance writer living in Pittsburgh.