Several years ago, Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff made an outlandish proposal. Lets build a new ball park for the Pirates on the citys North Shore, she offered. Sophie was nearly laughed out of town, her suggestion dismissed as the height of foolishness when most folks figured that Three Rivers Stadium was sturdy and serviceable enough to last well into the next century.
Well, Sophie got the last laugh. Today, the region has two new playgrounds under construction on the North Shore, one each for the Steelers and the Bucs.
Now is the time for the local arts, entertainment, cultural and tourism communities to get together and lobby for another kind of venue in the region. Why not promote Pittsburgh as a popular entertainment center? With a long tradition of supporting the performing arts, it would seem natural and relatively easy for us to develop into a tourist destination for travelers who are eager for entertainment.
Weve done well with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Pittsburgh Ballet and the Civic Light Opera. Lets expand on that success in an industry that we understand and which is as natural to us as heavy industry once was.
Not too long ago, some folks in a hamlet in Missouri decided that the town could become a destination for people seeking an alternative to the glitz of Las Vegas or the expense of New York for entertainment. Today, Branson, Mo., a town of 3,700 residents, where gambling remains illegal and you have to search out a bar or a liquor store, is one of the top tourist destinations in the United States. Every year, 5.8 million people travel to this Ozark Mountain town.
They go there to be entertained, visit historical sites, eat in the restaurants and shop in the malls. Bransons done it by attracting several big-name entertainers who are a bit past their prime but still eager to perform and quite able to draw an audience. The entertainers get a venue that relieves them of having to endure the rigors of the road, and tourists who have little interest in black jack or one-armed bandits can see entertainers as diverse as Moe Bandy and Andy Williams.
Theres no reason in the world that Pittsburgh couldnt become a sort of Branson of the Northeast. With an effort to draw in a few artists to take up residence in the area for, say, six months out of the year, it could happen. The scenario would go something like this:
Approach some entertainer whos a household name but who doesnt quite fill the stadiums like he or she once did. Offer him or her a home in a fashionable part of town, build a venue named after the star and start selling the tour packages.
Get one or two successes, and pretty soon youd find more wanting to cut deals here. Log half a dozen or so more and the deals wont have to be so sweet to land others. Pretty soon, youll have banks and accounting firms and soft drink makers and supermarkets vying for naming rights. How does the Shop n Save Eric Clapton Theater sound? What about the Mellon Bank Phil Collins Supper Club?
Dismiss this idea as harebrained if you will, but consider the $500 million development effort under way on the North Shore that originated in a nutty suggestion. There are, apparently, some people thinking along these lines.
Look at the Pepsi Cola Roadhouse out in Burgettstown, a stones throw from Star Lake Amphitheater. One or two more facilities like it along Route 22, and youll have the makings of a tourist destination.
Why not do something like that in the city? A lightly dismissed comment by Sophie led to new stadiums. Maybe a little tomfoolery could give this one legs.
Ray Marano is associate editor at SBN. But in a gesture of full disclosure, he also is a part-time country music singer and guitar player who would like nothing more than to trade in his typewriter to perform nightly at his own Rays Rowdy Honky-Tonk Roadhouse.