Making Change: Pittsburgh's Big Rank Jump (Part 2)

Featured Audio

Shula Neuman: Pittsburgh may not be the silicon valley of this part of the country. However, Southwest PA has made some choices over the past decades that are now contributing to what appears to be a comeback. Nearly 50,000 people work in hi-tech or bio-tech in Allegheny County and, if David DeSimone has a say in it, there will be plenty of jobs in the arts. DeSimone is senior vice president of operations for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust - an organization that manages five theatres and oversees public and private investments in an area known as the Cultural District.

David DeSimone: We also have a secondary component to what we do, sort of a second business which is real estate development in the sense of looking at this 14-square-block area and figuring out how to try to make strategic investments to help the arts grow.

SN: Under the Cultural Trusts' care, what was a red-light district 30 years ago has been transformed into a neighborhood that's home to the Pittsburgh Opera, the ballet, the symphony and several theatre companies. Public art adorns the streets and squares, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to visit before or after a show. A new convention center sits at one end of the district and a new baseball stadium is just across the Allegheny River, easily accessible by foot or car. DeSimone says it was all part of an extended strategic plan.

DD: The job is by no means done. There are still some noxious uses we're looking at and a lot of investment in district amenities. And of course, the whole idea of the land assembly was to eventually create a residential neighborhood and we're very hopeful that we can get that new construction. There have been some loft style buildings that have been reconverted by the real Holy Grail is to get new construction.

SN: Unlike the Holy Grail, the quest for new construction has actually been found. Lincoln Property Company, a Dallas based developer, is breaking ground on an 18-story high rise residential building - the first of its kind anywhere downtown in more than 30 years. The developer says demand for a variety of housing options reflects the changing corporate demographic. Gulf Oil and U.S. Steel are no longer the primary employers and suits and ties are no longer the uniform of corporate Pittsburgh. They've been replaced by the high-tech worker who wants an urban experience, with artistic opportunities 24 hours a day.

Tinsie Lipchak: This has always been, I think... this has always been a good artist community.

SN: Tinsie Lipchak is executive director of the Office of Cultural Tourism in Pittsburgh. She says the old brand of arts group - major symphonies and big theatre companies - have been joined by about a hundred smaller groups that cater to the younger, high-tech worker. TL: I think there is the new generation, the younger people who are recognizing the value of arts as a quality of life issue and who attend things and like to support their fellow artist. They see the value in that.

SN: The entire region is beginning to see the financial value of supporting its artistic community. According to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, money generated either directly or indirectly by the arts organizations amounts to $368 million. In addition, through a 1% Regional Asset District Sales Tax for area's cultural amenities, the county is realizing a 414% return on its investment. But beyond the immediate fiscal returns, the younger generation of Pittsburgh artists and professionals are using their creative energy to make political change as well. For example, a group called Ground Zero advocates social equity through performance art in the neighborhoods.

And there's PUMP - or the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project - an eight-year-old organization that hosts a sports club and some social events, but that primarily puts energy into lobbying state legislators for funds for things like a new ballpark or new modes of transportation.

Kristin Szymkowiac: I've been working downtown for a year and a half, and still, it never ceases to amaze me what I didn't know was there.

SN: While touring downtown Pittsburgh, Kristin Szymkowiac, executive director of PUMP and a native Pittsburgher, still marvels at her city. She might be Southwest Pennsylvania's biggest cheerleader, but she points out that the success of PUMP is indicative of Pittsburgh's attitude toward new opportunities.

KS: If young professionals and young people didn't feel like they could have a voice in this city, they would not have decided to form PUMP in the first place. And because they decided to form it and are having their voice heard, because you can make a difference in this town, then we continue to grow.

SN: It just may be that openness to new ideas that has helped Pittsburgh emerge from a once dying steel town into a city which is now being held up as a model for inspiration to other cities, just like Cleveland was not too long ago. In Pittsburgh, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

Support Provided By