Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato speaks at the G-20 brainstorming session at Robert Morris University, June 23, 2009.
Robin Rombach / Post-Gazette
Tom Buell, with GlobalPittsburgh offers an idea at the G-20 brainstorming session held at Robert Morris University on June 23, 2009.
By Kaitlynn Riely and Dennis Roddy Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At a community brainstorming meeting yesterday evening, suggestions for the upcoming G-20 summit ranged from setting up a disability hotline to providing delegates with a massage therapy room.
Any idea was open for discussion yesterday during two public meetings organized by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office as part of the Pittsburgh G-20 Partnership planning process.
The G-20 summit, a meeting of the world's top financial officials and heads of state, will take place in Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Sept. 24 and 25.
The summit will provide Pittsburghers with the "unparalleled opportunity to get our story out," said Bill Flanagan, executive vice president for corporate relations at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
Mr. Flanagan, helping to moderate a brainstorming session last night at the University of Pittsburgh, said Pittsburgh's story will be part of the story of the summit.
About 200 attendees -- local citizens, nonprofit business representatives, students and business leaders -- voiced their suggestions. Some of the ideas echoed those from previous brainstorming sessions.
One woman proposed a fireworks display as well as a tour of Pittsburgh landmarks for visitors. Summit organizers may also want to hand out pens that say "Pittsburgh: City of Champions," she said, a reference to the Steelers and Penguins championships this year. A local poet suggested a 24-hour open mike in a centralized location.
Many suggested highlighting the transformation of Pittsburgh over the last three decades. "The real important story here," a Highland Park resident said, is what's happened to Pittsburgh since 1980. "I do feel that maybe the sports side should be downplayed a bit," he said.
One person said the city should send journalists a YouTube video showing how Pittsburgh has gone from "rustbelt to sparkling jewel."
The prospect of protests during the summit came up a few times. Some people recommended forums with activists and police prior to the event.
Doris Carson Williams, chair of VisitPittsburgh, said at the meeting that people should "cross our fingers and see how much of this will get included."
The forthcoming summit could prove a bonanza for the city, but Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato cautioned against unrealistic expectations.
"Unlike the All Star game or the U.S. Open, this is not a public event coming here where we're going to be doing a fireworks show every night. We're hosting the world leaders for a meeting," Mr. Onorato told 100 people who attended a separate session earlier in the day at Robert Morris University in Moon.
The Pittsburgh impulse to help is famous, he said, but the benefit of the G-20 summit here isn't likely to be accrued during the two days of meetings set.
"I think the benefit for us as a region? We've achieved half of that benefit: we were selected," he said. "The other golden opportunity is between now and Sept. 24 and 25, what we do between now and then."
The White House will put out an official schedule closer to the event, said Ms. Williams.
Other suggestions that flowed in the earlier session included promoting the city's sustainability with brochures and forms on "100 percent post-consumer recycled paper with vegetable-based inks."
"I think we should have signs in multiple languages on the way in from the airport saying welcome to Pittsburgh," offered another. On the trip out, the signs could say in the languages of the world, "come again."
"The key thing is to make them feel at home," said John Donahoe, of Life Works.
"We should have our own video montage commercial," said Trina Jenura, of D.J. and More in Weirton. In a sales pitch straight out of a Hollywood meeting, she proposed buying airtime on network television.
"What if we make it like the 'Wizard of Oz,' ?" she asked. Then she answered: start in black and white, with smokestacks and grim skies, rush the camera through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. "We come out of the tunnel and there's colorful Pittsburgh," she exulted, arms spread wide.
The audience burst into applause. Someone asked her for her resume.