30 Years: Pittsburgh Cultural Trust a major driver of revitalization
Part of the 30 Years, 30 Changes series on the Pittsburgh region
October 13, 2013 8:00 AM
Pittsburgh Public Theater's O'Reilly Theater, on Penn Avenue.
By Sally Kalson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's a Saturday night Downtown. Well-lit streets are busy with foot traffic, restaurants buzz with diners prior to an art opening, play, concert or dance. A time traveler from 1983 wouldn't recognize the place, a former red-light district.
Today's lively scene was envisioned by H.J. "Jack" Heinz II, food magnate and civic leader, who believed the arts could drive revitalization and had the money and clout to prove it. In 1984, he founded the nonprofit Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to buy up blighted or nuisance properties along Penn and Liberty avenues. Although Mr. Heinz died in 1987, the trust's founding director, Carol Brown, carried his vision forward. The 14-block area known as the Cultural District is the result.
First came the Benedum Center in 1987. The 1990s brought the redo of the Fulton into the Byham Theater, the X-rated Art Cinema into the Harris Theater, and the new O'Reilly Theater, designed by Michael Graves, for the Pittsburgh Public Theater, plus new gallery space at 707-709 Penn Ave., and the Katz Plaza with fountain.
Under Ms. Brown's successor, J. Kevin McMahon, the trust completed Allegheny Riverfront Park, SPACE gallery and Theater Square, which has a cabaret theater, bar, restaurant, garage and radio studio.
The Trust brought in new programming and took over First Night, Pittsburgh Dance Council, Three Rivers Arts Festival and International Children's Festival. Meanwhile, the district sprouted bars and restaurants, the Pittsburgh Playwright's Theater, the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts 6-12 school, an expanded David L. Lawrence Convention Center and August Wilson Center. The Encore on Seventh opened in 2003, the first new Downtown residential construction in 35 years.