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Pittsburgh Officials Hire Architectural Firm to Restart
 Design Work on the Stalled $104 million
 Convention Center Hotel

By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 10, 2004 - The Sports & Exhibition Authority board hired a Downtown architectural firm yesterday to restart design work on the stalled $104 million headquarters hotel to be built next to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo described the move as a "positive step" in the long-anticipated development of the 500-room hotel, which has been in limbo for more than a year because of the lack of public funding to complete the project.

But that changed when slot machine gambling became law in Pennsylvania this summer, and legislators earmarked $44 million for the hotel from a $2 billion tourism and economic development fund to be financed through slots machine revenues.

The city-county authority renewed talks with Forest City Enterprises, the Cleveland developer selected to build the hotel, last month to get the project moving again and expects to meet with the company again next month.

Yesterday's hiring of L.D. Astorino & Associates Ltd. was another step toward reviving the hotel. Astorino, which will be paid up to $10,000 under the authority contract, is expected to address design issues related to traffic, drop-off areas, and blending the architecture of the hotel with that of the convention center, with its eye-catching sloped roof and large glass windows.

One matter Astorino is expected to explore is how best to give the public access to the convention center and a fourth floor plaza overlooking the Allegheny River from Penn Avenue without having to go through the hotel, which would be at Penn and 10th Street.

"It allows us to get down to specifics and work on design in detail instead of generalities," Conturo said. "It just gets us started."

Astorino will supplement the initial design work done by RTKL architects.

Still uncertain is just how soon the authority will be able to get the $44 million pledged by the state for the public share. Revenues from the first slots parlors probably won't start flowing until sometime in 2006.

"The timing of the funding is still uncertain at this point," Conturo said.

Because of that, the authority at some point may explore the idea of borrowing money in anticipation of the state money. It should have more flexibility in that regard now that the near-bankrupt city has approved a cooperation agreement with the state oversight board. Before that approval, the authority and other city-related agencies were barred from borrowing money.

Local tourism officials believe the completion of the hotel will enhance their ability to compete for conventions.

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