'Celebrate Downtown' shines light on revitalization

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA), 2014-07-12


July 12 --Downtown should be an exciting place to go or live. It remains an important indicator of any city's health.

For the past 20 years, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has worked to revitalize Downtown and will call attention to its progress with eight days of activities called "Celebrate Downtown" from July 14 to 21 .

New this year to the annual Celebrate Downtown attractions are Dining Around, sampling food and drink at some of the city's most highly regarded restaurants; All Access Pittsburgh, a series of tours; and Open Streets, which will create space for people to enjoy part of Downtown free of cars, buses and trucks.

The creation of the Cultural District and revitalization of Market Square are only part of the changes Downtown. More than 12,000 people live Downtown now, with more than 2,000 new apartments coming.

This includes the Golden Triangle and neighboring areas of the Uptown Bluff , North Shore , South Shore and Strip District.

Nick Rizzo found the changes Downtown "pretty amazing, pretty startling" when he returned to the city a little more than a year ago. Rizzo is director of operations for the Big Y Restaurant Group , which includes Sonoma Grill , Seviche, Perle and NOLA on the Square, which reopens July 15 . He joined Big Y in 2005 and, five years later, left Pittsburgh to run the company's Baltimore restaurant.

"When I returned, the city was much more vibrant, much more foot traffic," Rizzo says. "When I left, I think the redevelopment of Market Square had not begun. Now, it's the mecca of the city. Even on Penn Avenue , we've had new restaurants open. The city is definitely transformed."

Rizzo says the Downtown Partnership's Paris to Pittsburgh Facade Grant Program has contributed to the changes he sees. The program provides funding for restaurants to connect with the streets on which they're located with windows that open for outdoor dining.

"Outdoor awnings and outdoor seating create energy on the street," he says. "It really creates a more intimate and local atmosphere on Penn Avenue ."

Add the presence of college students at Point Park University , and Downtown has much to offer than the work scene.

"I think there are a lot of people who haven't been Downtown in quite some time," says Jeremy Waldrup , president of the Downtown Partnership . "We're seeing some pretty significant changes, and not just the new office tower going up. There's a new vitality coming out of the Cultural District and spreading through Downtown. We have the best dining scene in the city. Many folks don't realize that. They'll also be surprised at how vibrant the revitalized Market Square has become. It's the envy of many other cities."

Waldrup is aware that some people think that because Downtown isn't the way it used to be, it isn't worth seeing.

"That's just not correct," he says. "We're using an event like this to get people into town to see why so many people want to live here. Downtown apartments are all rented. There are 2,790 new apartments in the pipeline, 517 currently under construction."

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media . He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com .

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