200 give ideas for G-20 at Downtown brainstorm session

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Sellers of clothing, vendors of valet parking, consultants and a self-described "Wholistic Health Practitioner" who offered psychic readings, packed a ballroom at Point Park University today to figure out how to deal with -- and make deals on -- the forthcoming G-20 summit meeting.

"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 companies.

Ms. Roth was one of an estimated 200 people who crammed into the ballroom at Lawrence Hall at noon today to brainstorm on how to approach the late September meeting of world leaders who will gather here to address the global economic crisis.

Pittsburgh's choice as the meeting city -- the preceding gathering was held in London -- took local leaders by surprise. Today, they met to figure out how to deal with the expected swarm of government leaders with their entourages as well as an anticipated 3,000 media and a yet-to-be seen number of protesters.

"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 moolah the world can convert to American dollars.

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

"There's probably more, honestly, right now that we don't know than we do know," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who welcomed the crowd.

As the meeting kicked off, participants tossed out ideas grand and small. One man suggested festooning the town in the flags of the various nations represented. Another called for shade and cold water stands for the press waiting outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Loren Roth, a special assistant to the president from UPMC, threw out a classically 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.

Doris Carson Williams, chair of Visit Pittsburgh, moved the microphone from person to person in the first of three scheduled sessions. The next 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

Mel 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."

He urged city authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with the expected demonstrators.

"We can make it look like Seattle or we can make it look like a city that is inclusive and tolerant of peoples' rights," he said.

Ms. 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 beswt 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 six 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 B. Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.


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