The Morning File author wouldn't trade working in Downtown Pittsburgh for anything. There's nowhere we'd rather be Monday through Friday, and sometimes even on weekends, especially after all the sprucing up in recent years.
Everything just seems to get better and better: the eateries surrounding Market Square, the attractive new housing, the young vitality around Point Park University, the range of nighttime activities in the Cultural District and on the North Shore, the open drug dealing around the fast-food restaurants and courthouse. It's all just so wonderf--
Whoops -- hey! Who is it among the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Pittsburgh police credit union, private developers and others who said we can still have drug dealing Downtown? Don't they know it will discourage visits from some suburbanites (while, granted, attracting other suburbanites)?
Back in the day, everyone just assumed the number of people visibly loafing around Market Square at all hours, sans suit and tie, meant that was the place you could conduct a nefarious transaction (and by that, we don't mean procuring fresh jams and cucumbers during the Thursday farmers market).
But then the city's centerpiece square was transformed with all kinds of Mexican restaurants, gourmet burger places, nice bars and outdoor tables and chairs so we could indulge in other more suitable pastimes, such as overeating or overdrinking -- which, as we know, are fine so long as they're done among attractive surroundings and just-as-attractive people.
It turns out that one side effect of the upgrade was to push the pushers elsewhere around Downtown, including -- gasp! -- the County Office Building.
It's "the safest place to do these deals. ... Nobody would ever suspect anything," is how one alleged drug dealer put it, according to the report concerning his arrest for selling prescription drugs to an undercover officer.
That illegal transaction reportedly took place in the waiting area of the Allegheny County public defender's office. There is a certain amount of logic to this, in terms of convenience for a drug dealer, if he is not successful enough at his craft to be able to afford his own attorney.
Police on Friday announced the arrest of 32 people in all as part of a three-month undercover investigation of drug activity Downtown. Plainclothes officers bought heroin, marijuana, crack cocaine and pills in and around fast-food restaurants and bus stops thousands of people visit or walk past every day.
"If you ever sit down there in the morning and just see, it's the same people in and out, day after day hanging out at the same business," police Lt. Jason Lando said of the scene around the Smithfield Street McDonald's.
And to think we had assumed any regular crowd we saw early at a McDonald's was just nursing their McCafe Frappes while hoping to be first in line when that day's Angus Deluxes came hot off the grill.
One could take a dim view of this illegal activity continuing to such an extent in the Golden Triangle despite all of the continuing upgrades, or we prefer to see it as validation that Downtown remains a strong hub for all sectors of Pittsburgh's increasingly diversified economy. The rising price of parking and loss of some of our bigger retailers has done nothing to tamp down the prospects of our drug entrepreneurs, who show impressive resilience, as Pittsburghers of all stripes are wont to do.
Considering none of this activity is really going to be stopped -- in the words of Lt. Lando: "I think for a while things are going to slow down, but eventually it's going to pick up again if we don't stay on top of it" -- might we just agree on a better place to direct it than fast-food joints and county offices?
There must be some part of Downtown that's crying out for more foot traffic and spillover shoppers and economic activity that the drug trade could provide. Such as:
• We've certainly been in the Macy's some afternoons and evenings when we felt rather lonely inside, and it was clear the place could benefit from an additional customer attraction.
• On any April weekday evening when the Pirates are playing at PNC Park, there's such an empty, quiet feeling, regardless of what's transpiring on the field, that it would liven things up to provide a concessions stand for this sort of thing.
• Until the Point State Park fountain reopens later this spring, more amenities would benefit the Point, and moving the trade here would make it one of the most scenic locations in the country for such transactions.
Or if those don't sound right, by all means keep using government buildings -- it's undoubtedly more convenient for everyone involved.
Gary Rotstein: email@example.com or 412-263-1255.