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Ideas flow on how to redd up the city for G-20 summit

Saturday, June 20, 2009
By Dennis B. Roddy and Daniel Malloy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sellers of clothing, parking and consultations brainstormed yesterday on how to sell a unique commodity -- Pittsburgh -- to the world as more than 200 people crammed a ballroom to talk about the forthcoming G-20 summit here.

How about a parade? Prune the trees? Some banners? Folk music?

Doris Carson Williams, the chair of Visit Pittsburgh, coordinated an hour-long session in the Lawrence Hall ballroom at Point Park University where the ideas -- large, small, predictable and, sometimes, downright weird -- filled the room and a projection screen, each notion transcribed as it departed the lips of the speaker.

All this planning for an event the White House has yet to catalog.

"They haven't given us the full rollout. Right now what we're trying to do is get our infrastructure ready so when they respond, we can be prepared," Ms. Williams said. "I was so excited and then our phone started ringing off the hook and people saying, 'What can we do? How can we help?'?"

Yesterday, they tried.

Participants tossed out ideas grand and small. One suggested festooning the town in the flags of the various nations represented at the summit. Another called for shade and cold water stands for the media waiting outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Loren Roth, a special assistant to the president from UPMC, threw out a quintessentially Pittsburgh idea:

"Why don't we have a special light-up night?"

From color-coding Port Authority buses to make them easier to identify by destination to reviving the city's folk festival for live street music to cleaning windows at one Downtown building, the ideas rolled across the ballroom as the lunch hour wore on.

"So much good will accrue to the region that it sets us up as an international city in the eyes of the world," said Ellen A. Roth, who heads Getting to the Point, a relocation firm that specializes in selling Pittsburgh to professionals being recruited by area firms.

In all, the summit is expected to draw yet-to-be determined leaders from 19 countries as well as the European Union, their assorted retinues and as many as 3,000 news reporters.

An estimated 400 Pennsylvania state troopers and an unspecified number of Pennsylvania National Guard troops are available for security, according to spokesmen for both agencies. Christopher Cleaver, a guard spokesman, said the 171st Air Refueling Wing at Pittsburgh International Airport could provide possible housing for the large security detail.

"As you can imagine, it's going to be impossible to get a hotel out there," he said.

"It is certainly heady stuff and the stuff headaches can be made of," said Mariann Geyer, a Point Park administrator who kicked off the meeting.

It's also the stuff business deals can be made of -- and that seemed to be on the minds of many in the crowd.

The Point Park meeting today appeared to attract no world leaders. Rather, they were people such as Christine Giunta, tourism coordinator for Macy's Downtown department store.

"We're hoping they're going to have shopping time," said Mrs. Giunta. "We're going to go to all the local colleges. We're going to get the bilingual students."

Those students will act as translators, with any luck, for foreign visitors ready to spend euros, francs, pounds and whatever other coin of the realm visitors tote to the city.

The biggest challenge seemed to be figuring out how to market for an event that hasn't yet been defined.

Participants tossed out ideas grand and small.

Anthony Boule, who is taking a tree-trimming class, offered his services to cut down dead trees Downtown and even had a handy list of offending shrubbery.

Larry Hailsham, a 16-year-old student at City Charter, Downtown, asked organizers to focus on youth participation in the event, saying he and his schoolmates would love to help out in any way or simply observe the diplomatic goings-on.

Many comments focused on playing up the city's environmental record -- one of the reasons President Barack Obama chose Pittsburgh to host the summit. One idea, pitched by Aurora Sharrard, of the Green Building Alliance, was to open up all of the city's LEED-certified buildings for tours.

Others proposed a parade, art exhibits and a light-up night, and all expressed a desire to show off Pittsburgh in the best popular light to visiting dignitaries and news media.

One way to do that would be to avoid the massive riots that gripped Seattle at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting.

"We can make it look like Seattle, or we can make it look like a city that is tolerant and supportive of First Amendment rights," said Mel Packer, 64, of Point Breeze, who plans to be among the protesting throng.

Mr. Packer said it's too early to tell if there will be as many protesters here as there were in Seattle, but he has seen plenty of out-of-town protest groups organizing on the Internet.

He predicted that the Secret Service, which is organizing security for the G-20, will try to pen protesters at a distance from the convention center, but he hopes local officials will allow them to roam more freely.

"They really need to go on record saying these are our citizens, they have a right to be here and we oppose those [containment] policies," Mr. Packer said.

The next brainstorming session kicks off noon Tuesday at Robert Morris University followed by another meeting 5:30 p.m. the same day at Alumni Hall at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Packer, a longtime activist, sounded a note of warning.

"I'm an incredible fan of the city," Mr. Packer said. "I'm also one of those people that will be protesting policies of the G-20."

Mrs. Roth, the relocation expert and an acknowledged expert on the region's strong selling points, said the G-20 will be important as a stage on which the region can showcase itself.

"It will focus the world on Pittsburgh; give us a chance to showcase our region and our very viable economic and environmental transformation. We have a wonderful story to tell," she said.

The flip side, she noted, is to keep expectations reasonable.

"Everyone is a partisan of what they do and wants to show the best of what they do, but not everyone will get a chance to do it," she said.

One who wants to -- and might have a bit of a selling job to do it -- is David G. Speer, who listed his occupation as wholistic health practitioner.

He handed out a flier listing "My Best Ideas for the G-20 Pittsburgh Summit."

It included personal psychic readings for visiting guests by his team of "about 6 professional experienced psychics" and "a 3 hour complimentary class in LOVE HEALING for the guests because that is what most people really want & what the world needs most."

That and, possibly, some answers about a melting world economy.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at 412-263-1965 or droddy@post-gazette.com. Daniel Malloy can be reached at dmalloy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1731.

Lauren Boyer, an intern with the Harrisburg Legislative Correspondents' Association, contributed to this story.

First published on June 20, 2009 at 12:35 am

Read more: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09171/978828-53.stm#ixzz0J0yKRY8h&C

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