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Unsightly and Unfinished Pittsburg Hilton May
be Cloaked for G-20 Summit in September

By Thomas Olson and Jeremy Boren, The Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 30, 2009--After their first face-to-face meeting, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and officials of the Pittsburgh Hilton said Wednesday that the hotel's unfinished renovation might be cloaked with a banner or mural when the city hosts a global economic summit in late September.

"It's critically important the city put its best face forward as we get ready for the (Group of 20) summit," Ravenstahl said. The G-20 meeting scheduled for Sept. 24 and 25 is expected to draw thousands of international visitors to Pittsburgh.

The Downtown hotel entrance prominently facing Point State Park is conspicuously unfinished and framed by steel beams. The project is mired in debt and contractor liens.

But Atul Bisaria, CEO of the hotel's owner, Shubh Hotels, said he hopes to get the hotel expansion/renovation back on track and is "looking at a partnership group to join in with us."

The company is in "active negotiations" with investors to raise an equity investment in the hotel to pay for the $25 million renovation, which "should take care of all the issues the Pittsburgh Hilton has," Bisaria said after meeting with the mayor. He did not name the investors, but said a deal could be reached "fairly shortly."

P.J. Dick Inc., the prime contractor on the hotel project, pulled its workers from the job site May 15 and still awaits payment of $317,273 from Shubh.

Architect Steve Berry last week had the city Building Inspection Bureau return his Hilton-related design and specification plans after not being paid $308,575.

"We don't have anything resolved yet; we're waiting to see what happens," Berry said. The Youngstown, Ohio, architect has a lawsuit pending against Shubh, but hopes "an arrangement can be worked out."

"An offer was made to me but was not acceptable," said Berry, who said he expects to receive the full amount. He continued to negotiate with Shubh this week over his blueprints for the hotel, and he said the progress of those talks was "encouraging."

With no official plans, the building permit has been revoked. But it could be reinstated, Ravenstahl said.

"They will be working with us between now and September to do everything they can to make sure that facility looks good," the mayor said. "Whether that is continuing construction, (or) some sort of banner or mural that will be put there, I feel confident, based on the discussions we had today, that the commitment is there. We were very adamant about the fact that something needs to be done."

The half-finished public face of the building belies the fact that all 713 guest rooms inside have been "completely refurbished," said Tom Conran, a principal with Greenwood Hospitality, which is providing management consulting to Shubh.

Failing a big infusion of cash, the hotel might be temporarily covered over. Conran said Shubh could provide "some kind of modification," he said, "a canopy of sorts."

The mayor told Shubh officials the city would not bail out the hotel.

"We were very clear that we just don't have the resources to do that," said Ravenstahl.


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