Friday, June 26, 2009

Pittsburgh's G-20, and Mau-Mauing the Press Corps

It has been oft-reported that when the White House announced that the upcoming G20 Summit would be held in Pittsburgh in September, some in the White House press corps snickered. The snickering was news in Pittsburgh for several print and TV news cycles. Maybe that small town, smoky city feeling is tough to overcome here.
Perhaps it’s surprising that some here in Pittsburgh, the City of Champions, home of the Super Bowl Steelers and the Stanley Cup Penguins, are a bit insecure about our city’s current place in the world. We are prone to perceive insults, and to detect snobbery of Big City press, like working class kids at a prep school party. We try to impress too hard sometimes, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s deputy chief of staff, Kristen Baginski, seemed a bit like that to me in her opening remarks at the International Bridge Conference, held last week in Pittsburgh.
She waxed about the opportunity presented by the upcoming G-20 Summit. “The G-20 is Pittsburgh’s opportunity to show itself to the world…Pittsburgh’s a city that’s been able to reinvent itself,” she said.
Which is in fact the point of the G-20 being held in Pittsburgh, and in a way, the same point was being made by the International Bridge Conference being held Here. Held in the award-winning, LEED-certified David L. Lawrence Convention Center, in the former industrial powerhouse Steel City (which could be the unofficial capital of the Rust Belt), the very presence of the engineers underscored Pittsburgh's success in transcending its past, and making the most of it. Indeed, that’s why the Obama administration chose Pittsburgh as the meeting place for some of the world’s most powerful leaders. The idea is to showcase the turnaround that Pittsburgh has been able accomplish since the dark days of mass layoffs in the early and mid-1980s.
The International Bridge Conference was being held in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the second time. It’s not hard to see why—the center staff caters to the needs of each conference, tailoring offerings for each group, with a warm Pittsburgh friendliness that echoes the welcoming nature of this neighborly city. Another obvious reason for the convention being held in Pittsburgh—also known as the City of Bridges for the thousands of bridges that traverse rivers, streams, creeks and hollows in the area—is the city’s pivotal and historic role in the bridge building and engineering industries.
It doesn’t hurt that the David L. Lawrence Convention Center provides sweeping views of both the cityscape and river-scape, giving the feeling, with its huge, sail-like windows, of a ship on the edge of the water. It is impressive, no doubt, and it also is the structure that led me to be a stringer for ENR magazine. Several years ago, in the wake of the collapse of the 13th truss being erected for the new convention center, ENR senior editor Richard Korman contacted me by phone to enlist me to cover the coroner’s inquest into the truss collapse, which killed ironworker Paul Corsi, Jr., 38, and injured two of his co-workers.
Covering part of the bridge conference (I have covered several conventions in the building for various publications over the years), it struck me how far our city has come. Now, we are no longer America’s best kept secret; The Economist says we’re simply the best place to be. The President says we’re a place to emulate, and a place study on how it rebounded from tough economic times.
More than 100 multiglobal companies are headquartered here or have a base here, Baginski said. “We’re a world-class city whose future is bright,” she said.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Glenn Greene Exhibition and Celebration set for June 20-21

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Glenn Greene
412-243-2772

PITTSBURGH (June 10, 2009) — His creations are prized artworks in structures throughout the region, but many people don’t know they can walk into Glenn Greene’s Regent Square stained glass studio and browse for gifts or talk with the artist nearly any day.

In celebration of his thirtieth year of working with stained glass, and to welcome the public to enjoy his creations, Greene is opening his studio for an exhibition of a series of his work. Greene’s exhibition of his “The Great 48” series—48 stained glass pieces created consecutively—will be the focus of an art opening and celebration at his Guthrie Street studio from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 20, and from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. June 21. Refreshments will be provided at the summer solstice event, which will feature live music performances.

Originally built as the former Frank French Machine Shop along Guthrie Street (the address is 635 South Braddock Avenue, rear), the studio building is 100 years old this year, and also is being celebrated by the exhibition. While Greene’s appreciation for history is evident in his involvement in restorations, that craftwork supports the main part of his business—his original artistic creations. “My art is a melting pot of many styles and influences; craftsman and church and on and on,” Greene said.

The Great 48 is a group of 48 stained glass leaded windows, varying in size and fabricated in a whirlwind of creativity by Greene four years ago. Each piece was made as part of a group of 12 per month, over four months. Greene was inspired to fashion the artworks after finding a crate of frames he had set aside. The fruit of that creative burst is the series of striking works that blend stained glass, beveled glass, agate, and many other items from Greene’s collection of glass goodies, in richly evocative scenes that are abstract, yet familiar.

Greene is thankful to be pursuing an art that he loves, and appreciative of the many opportunities Pittsburgh has offered since he arrived here 27 years ago from Cleveland to do what he expected would be a short job. Despite the struggling economy, Greene’s business is booming, which he attributes in part to his growing reputation, but also to the more reflective nature of people during a recession.

“Tough times create more of a need for emotional and aesthetic nourishments. With the economic downturn, my business has improved. People are traveling less, staying at home, and appreciating what they have,” Greene said.

Those interested in attending the exhibition/open house are asked to RSVP at ggsginc@gmail.com.

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Glenn Greene’s Stained Glass Adds Color to Regent Square and Beyond

From the transom of McBroom Beer Distributor to the stained glass windows in Waverly Presbyterian Church’s front staircase and beyond, Glenn Greene’s works are part of the artsy feel of Regent Square. Many are familiar with Greene’s sandwich board, which sits along South Braddock Avenue advertising his stained glass studio, but fewer people know that he created McBroom’s transom window from bottle bottoms, or that he donated two stained glass windows, original creations decorated with a Frick Park motif, to Waverly Presbyterian Church. Some of his restorations also grace the Honors College at the University of Pittsburgh.
Greene’s original stained glass artwork, stained glass window reproductions, and antique window restorations accent many homes in the area. He has been practicing his art since he became an apprentice to a stained glass artist 30 years ago.
“You want to be a stained glass artist, kid? Here’s a broom,” Greene recalled his first mentor saying.
The artist originally worked in a studio in Oakland, moving to in his current studio 13 years ago. The former Frank French Machine Shop, the century-old building located along Guthrie Street is filled with Greene’s original artwork, restored antique windows, and various types of stained glass gifts. The studio offers items that are affordable to people of all income levels.
From noon to 10 p.m. on June 20, the public is welcome to the studio for Greene’s first self-hosted exhibit of some of his artwork: “The Great 48.” The series is a group of 48 stained glass leaded windows, varying in size but related by the fact that they were created in groups of 12 over four months, 12 per month, four years ago.
Greene decided to fabricate the art pieces in a series after finding a crate of empty frames he had. His original works are abstract, combining familiar shapes and abstract forms with antique stained and beveled glass and newer stained glass. The images he creates are somehow familiar, capturing and transforming light, and serving as points of reflection to those viewing them.
While he is renowned for his original artwork, Greene also is well known for the stained glass window reproductions and antique leaded glass window restorations he’s created for many local homes. His ability to collaborate with homeowners to create lasting impressions through stained glass is a part of his work that is exceptionally satisfying to him.
“People can come in and talk to me. I really like to do work around here,” Greene said. “If you’ve got an old door that could use leaded glass, talk to me. I’ve done a bunch of them, and it’s a very exciting process.”
Annie Stunden, a neighbor of Greene’s who lives nearby in Edgewood, commissioned him to create original art glass windows to replace older transom windows in her Queen Anne Cottage style house. “He said, ‘I’ll design them and you’ll love them,’” she recalled.
Greene went to Stunden’s house and scoped the place, taking pictures of it from different perspectives, Stunden said, and even took into consideration that she is a quilter and has her quilts around the house. The original creations he made work well with her quilts, as well as with the home’s architecture and even a front stone wall.
“He came up with beautiful windows. And they have life to them,” Stunden said. “You just have to walk around the neighborhood to see Glenn’s creations. Mine are the most colorful, though.”

Friday, June 05, 2009

What to do about Bellevue?

Sam DiBattista has a cold. His voice is strained as he talks about Bellevue's business district. Every so often, his voice breaks, either from the cold or from the frustration.
"We're struggling right now. The market is different," said Mr. DiBattista, owner of Vivo restaurant, in the borough's business district. "Being a destination in a town that doesn't have anything else happening isn't working right now."
Some of his feelings are echoed by others in the borough who say not enough is being done to strengthen the community. Vacant stores dot Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue's main street, and the tired look of the business district hasn't helped to spur investment.
The business district of several blocks has a variety of storefronts, but it hasn't looked so tough since Pittsburgh's last big recession in the early 1980s.
Mayor George Doscher, a lifelong resident, remembers those times. He recognizes the current struggles in the town and is concerned with the loss of businesses.
"Those borough businesses are our lifeblood," Mr. Doscher said.
Mr. DiBattista agreed but said some of those in local government aren't doing all they can to help. Some Bellevue council members aren't interested in helping the development committee, Bellevue Initiative for Growth, which new council President Kathy Coder leads, Mr. DiBattista said.
"She's set up a situation to get hundreds of thousands of dollars for development, though council is against her," Mr. DiBattista said. "Who benefits by keeping Bellevue down? Who benefits by Bellevue having less income for local government services and the school district?"
Ms. Coder leads Bellevue Initiative for Growth, or B.I.G.. A Republican, Ms. Coder said she had a wakeup call in the primary election, where she did "terribly. It was a reality check for me." An overwhelming majority of Democrats in the borough who vote straight Democrat made her realize she had to make herself known to people. She said she also has recognized that she might not be able to retain her seat on council, to which she was appointed.
"I've come to the conclusion that you have to build towards sustainability. But there are people who are not looking toward the future," Ms. Coder said of those who don't support the development committee's initiatives.
Linda Woshner, Bellevue councilwoman, said she's not opposed to Ms. Coder's ideas for the committee, but she said many of those ideas are her own.
"Her ideas were my ideas to begin with. They are council's ideas, because B.I.G. is a council committee. Definitely, I am for revitalization, but we need to promote the community, to bring in people and bring in businesses," Ms. Woshner said.
She added that the vacant storefronts in the borough are more a sign of the times, rather than some indicator of serious trouble in a solid business district.
"There are vacant storefronts everywhere. We have a good business district, especially for these times. This is not the best of economic times," Ms. Woshner said.
One lifetime member of the community, former councilman and former Northgate school board member Rich Furis, said the development committee could be viewed as a political football, but it shouldn't be. With the group, its responsibilities and boundaries with regard to the town's government are blurred, he said.
"I've gone to a couple meetings, and my philosophy is the town needs new thinking. And a good idea is a good idea, no matter who comes up with it. … I worry about how these ideas will be focused, though," Mr. Furis said.
Mr. DiBattista led the wave of small restaurants and eateries that located in Bellevue several years ago and in subsequent years. His much-acclaimed Vivo restaurant is surviving, though he recently decided to open on Sundays to improve business. It's helped, but other factors have led Mr. DiBattista away from the bullish attitude he once had regarding the borough.
Last month, four years after he bought the closed G.C. Murphy building on Lincoln Avenue for $250,000 with the help of an investor, the building was sold at sheriff's sale. Mr. DiBattista had cultivated and rented to several small businesses in the building, and now most of them plan to move out of the building, he said. Some of the newer businesses on Lincoln Avenue were among the first to flee the borough. Regina Margherita, a pizzeria serving wood-fired oven-style pizza, relocated in 2008. Laughing Lizard, a juice bar and soup shop, closed last year. Affogato, a coffee house started by Mr. DiBattista in the wake of his success with Vivo, survives under different ownership. Still, he doesn't see more trendy business coming anytime soon.
"There's just no interest in investing in Bellevue right now," Mr. DiBattista said.
But members of the development committee and others, such as former mayor and current Bellevue council treasurer Paul Cusick, are working to promote Bellevue. Mr. Cusick, who's lived there for 39 years, recently started a news Web site, North Boroughs News. The site is linked to Bellevue's Web site, which has made Mr. Cusick the target of criticism by some residents. They say the link is essentially a borough government endorsement of his Web site. He disagrees.
" 'Enjoy Bellevue' and Northgate School District's Web sites also are linked," Mr. Cusick said. "I think some people are resistant to change."
Enjoy Bellevue is a nonprofit group.
Mr. Doscher, who is in his fourth year as mayor and in his 10th year with local government, said he was unaware that Mr. Cusick's news site was a for-profit business when he allowed the link to be put on the borough's Web site. An information technology committee has subsequently been formed by council. The committee will decide which links are placed on the borough site, the mayor said.
Mr. Cusick said he began his site because he believed the borough needed an online source of news.
Michele Smith owns QUI Interiors on Hawley Avenue and leads Enjoy Bellevue. The group's site, enjoybellevue.org, is an example of Bellevue merchants helping themselves, she said.
"It started as a group of merchants not satisfied with their representation on the old borough Web site," she said.
The year-old organization has hosted events in the borough intended to entice people to the town, including two days of free swimming at Bellevue pool last summer and a craft market on Hawley Avenue. The group recently hosted a classic car cruise on a closed stretch of Lincoln Avenue in the business district. About 200 antique cars and their owners attended, and about 1,000 visitors came.
"That Sunday, the restaurants had their best Sunday in years," Ms. Smith said.
The group's Summer Solstice Party, a three-day celebration first held last year, will be held June 18-21 with free swimming June 21 at Bellevue pool and a June 20 street dance on North Sprague Street. The events are in keeping with the focus of Enjoy Bellevue, which is meant to promote Bellevue's businesses, history and housing stock.
Ms. Smith said the borough's location is a great advantage. "We're 20 minutes from everywhere," she said.

Jonathan Barnes is a freelance writer and Bellevue native. pittsburghreporter@yahoo.com
This story originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Photo of Sam DiBattista by Andy Starnes.
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09155/974676-54.stm?cmpid=localstate.xml