DOING BUSINESS IN
by Lawrence Ferber
There's a beautiful blue sky over Pittsburgh today, the sun shining down on a picturesque cityscape shaped like a pie sliced by a trio of rivers (the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela) and green, hilly surroundings. It's a lovely, crystal-clear sight taken in from high-altitude homes and neighborhoods that nestle them. Details like the Andy Warhol Bridge, kayakers rowing along the Allegheny River, even the North Shore's Fred Rogers Memorial Statue (yes, this was Mister Rogers' neighborhood!) all contribute to this view of Pittsburgh.
Long gone is the dense smog that characterized and plagued this former steel mill town from the mid-1800s well into the 20th century. A smog sometimes so thick that one couldn't ascertain if it were day or night without glancing at a watch, and streetlights were necessary 24/7. Those factories closed in the 1980s, taking the smog with them, and while Pittsburgh's industrial heyday may be over, the city and its neighboring suburbs are no less industrious…and 21st-century green to boot.
Opened in 2003, Pittsburgh's Convention Center is the United States' first LEED Gold certified, while the new Fairmont hotel, also LEED Gold certified, is the chain's first green property. Continuing its tradition as an innovative center of medicine and technology (Jonas Salk developed the Polio vaccine at University of Pittsburgh during the 1950s), Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University is one of the top developers of nanotechnology, including a pill that seeks out and consumes cancer cells. In 2010, Google opened a 45,000-square-foot, 150-plus employee office in a former Nabisco factory in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood.
Tourism represents a major industry as well. Three arenas and their nationally renowned teams bring in legions of sports fans: the Pittsburgh Steelers' Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Pirates' PNC Park, and Pittsburgh Penguins' Consol Energy Center hockey arena. For culture vultures, there are numerous art galleries including the innovative Mattress Factory and The Andy Warhol Museum. Public artwork (including Glenn Kaino's "Arch," which resembles a Transformer robot made of bridges) is peppered throughout the city. You can even download a public art walking tour guide (www.pittsburghartscouncil.org/public-art).
The past couple of years has seen a boom of over three dozen independent, chef-driven restaurant openings, hugely successful ones to boot, that embrace a local, farm-to-table ethos and wide range of cuisines/specialties, from contemporary American and charcuterie to cupcakes (2011's Top Chef: Just Desserts Season 2 featured Pittsburgh chocolatier Orlando Santos). Several sections of the city are undergoing revitalization, particularly in the North Side across the Allegheny River, and Hollywood productions like The Dark Knight Rises, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and others are shooting here with increasing frequency.
While most office workers adhere to formal suit and tie attire during business hours, especially within the legal and financial sectors, the dress code tends to be casual, one local told me. "Even for fine dining, just jeans and a decent top will be fine." That said, punctuality is paramount, and rush hours skew earlier than in most American cities (7 A.M. and 3 P.M.) due to congestion on the citiy is vital network of 446 bridges and tunnels.
Driving from the Pittsburgh International Airport into the city is an uneventful, rote affair, but a treat waits at the end of the tunnel. Upon emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel, a splendiferous, cinematic view of the city is suddenly revealed—it's breathtaking.
Pittsburgh's layout is hilly and sprawling, divided into dozens of neighborhoods (89 to be exact), each bearing a distinct identity, demographic, and name. Logistically and visually, it brings to mind San Francisco.
Shadyside ranks among Pittsburgh's toniest, well-heeled hoods. Many LGBT people reside here, and the city's most up-market gay bar/lounges are found along its hip local business strip, Ellwood Avenue. Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh's campuses are both located in Oakland, along with their affiliated museums, theaters, hospitals, and many popular student hangouts. 16:62 Design Zone, chockablock with indie arts and design showrooms, cuts through newly gentrified, boutique-y Lawrenceville. The buzzing Strip District, an indoor and outdoor marketplace running along the Allegheny River's south side, is a foodie's delight, rife with restaurants, ethnic supermarkets, and gourmet specialty shops. Downtown's Central Business District is home to numerous office building complexes and the striking PPG Place. Pittsburgh's Rockefeller Square equivalent, the Philip Johnson-designed PPG Place's six dark-glass buildings are topped by some 231 spiky spires. Admittedly, it looks like a superhero/sci-fi villain's compound—another cinematic bit of flair for sure.
Downtown's 596-room Omni William Penn, open since 1916 with a lobby still radiating of old-school grandeur, is a longtime favorite for big functions. A whopping 52,000 square feet of meeting and function space is broken into 38 rooms (some can be combined). A full slate of A/V services and facilities, high-speed Internet, videoconferencing, and 24-hour on-site technicians are available. Rooms include Wi-Fi (complimentary throughout the hotel if you're a member of their Select Guest loyalty program, which costs nothing to sign up for), two dual-line phones, large work desks, flat-screen TVs, and, in more deluxe suites, full-service kitchenettes and wet bars. The restaurant, The Terrace Room, is located in the lobby.
Just south of the Allegheny River, across the water from PNC Park, the ten-year-old 300-room Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel brings contemporary style and colors to its 1906 building. Having served as a hospital, boarding school, and, during parts of the 70s and 90s, a nightclub, there's a fabulous marble staircase in the lobby illuminated by changing colored lights. Business facilities include a full-service business center and concierge lounge, 10,000 square feet of recently renovated meeting space, "function experts" to help coordinate, and in-house A/V equipment at no additional charge. Renovated in 2009, the rooms (some of which boast gorgeous views) include a TV with web access/browser, two-line cordless/speakerphones, and a choice of foam or down pillows. There's an on-site 24-hour fitness center, plus guests are entitled to free access at Gold's Gym (a five-minute walk). Lobby restaurant Braddock's American Brasserie serves French/International comfort food with a "spirit of Pittsburgh local spin"—like braised short rib pierogi and lobster cassoulet—while Whiskey aficionados will relish the whiskey/bourbon-centric Braddock's Bar, which boasts the city's largest collection of whiskeys and bourbon plus delicious Rebellion Cocktails like the Braddock Smash (Maker's Mark, bitters, fresh sours, and muddled berries).