City to host global leaders for G-20 summit in September
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A little more than two weeks ago, White House officials contacted Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and other officials with two questions: Would they be interested in hosting an international event and could they keep it a secret?
That set off a frenzy of meetings and telephone calls among government, business and hotel officials that culminated with yesterday's announcement that Pittsburgh will host the G-20 world economic summit Sept. 24-25 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The key -- in addition to not letting word leak out about the possibility before the White House announcement -- was clearing blocks of hotel rooms and making them available at rates that world leaders were willing to pay.
The summit will involve the leaders of 20 of the world's important industrialized and developing nations. The September summit will be a followup to an April meeting in London and will serve as a update on the world economic crisis. It also will highlight the economic benefits of environmentally friendly practices.
The 20 members of the G-20 that can be expected to attend the summit are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union (along with the European Central Bank).
The summit will be a meeting of leaders of those countries, White House officials said. It will not be just deputies, who typically meet in advance of a summit meeting, and who had initially been scheduled for a G-20 assembly in September. The leaders decided in April that it would be useful for them to meet then as well for an update.
Both President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will be coming to Pittsburgh to act as hosts, the White House said.
Joseph McGrath, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh, said his organization was brought in early by the city and county to work out the logistics of the summit, because "that's what we do." But this situation was different from Major League Baseball's All-Star Game or the U.S. Open golf tournament. Because the White House had set a ceiling on overall costs for the summit gathering, he had to ask hotel operators for their best rates for a Thursday and Friday in September, yet without identifying the event.
"[White House officials] were looking for room blocks, and we had to get the commitments from the hotel operators," Mr. McGrath said. "It was a little different because we were not at liberty to tell them what the event was. We had to go back to some of them two or three times to get the rate we needed to make this work."
Fortunately for officials at the convention center, it had only three, relatively minor events scheduled at that time, a business meeting and two private events.
White House officials said they focused on Pittsburgh because of the city's economic recovery from the decline of the steel industry in the 1980s, and because of its leadership in environmentally friendly buildings. The administration also is funding research on solar window panels under development for office buildings by PPG Industries.
The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which administration officials were familiar with from previous campaign visits to the city, will be the summit headquarters. It is the largest LEED-certified center in the world, just as the new arena under construction Uptown will be the largest LEED-certified arena in North America when it opens in 2011. LEED is the acronym for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification system, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Kevin Evanto, an aide to Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, said officials will reactivate the same series of host committees that it used in recent years for the All-Star game and U.S. Open.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for Pittsburgh," said city Chief of Staff Yarone Zober. "This is a chance for us to showcase our city, and our region, for the world."
Among the selling points: "Pittsburgh has really been a model for an economic turnaround," he said, noting the smokestacks-to-knowledge transformation of the regional economy and the development of environmentally friendly "green" job sectors. It doesn't hurt, he said, that "President Obama is a big Pittsburgh fan in so many ways, and we're glad of it."
He acknowledged that preparing the city to host the world's leaders would be a big job. "We're going to be ready to welcome the world to Pittsburgh in September," Mr. Zober said. "We're going to make sure that this city shines. ... This is potentially one of the largest things to happen in Pittsburgh."
The short-term economic impact to hotels, restaurants and other Downtown businesses is significant, he said. So may be the long-term impact of introducing so many top leaders and international journalists to the city, hopefully including its neighborhoods, he said.
The city's public safety departments have already begun coordinating security planning with the Secret Service, he said, but details are not yet worked out. The federal government is expected to cover most costs associated with hosting the summit meeting.
City Public Safety Director Michael Huss said it was too early to talk about the specifics of security, but he acknowledged that the city is well aware of the demonstrations that sometimes accompany such gatherings. The Secret Service is expected to take the lead on security, which has presented issues at some prior summits when protests have turned violent.
"We are confident we can provide a safe location," the county's Mr. Evanto said.
Dennis Yablonsky, head of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said the summit is several notches above the world-class sporting events the region has hosted in recent years. In addition to world leaders, dozens of international journalists will be exposed to the city, he said.
"The number of people involved may not be as big, but the worldwide attention that will be focused here will be bigger than anything we've ever seen," Mr. Yablonsky said. "Pittsburgh has been a transformed region, with new industries and a balanced economy, and we can tell that story to the world."
Other officials also noted that Pittsburgh will be in the world's spotlight:
• "Pittsburgh has a lot of which it can be very proud, and the G-20 summit offers a great opportunity to showcase how Pittsburgh has reinvented itself, while creating new opportunities for its residents," Gov. Ed Rendell said. "Any doubts that Pittsburgh is a world-class city with a bright future should be erased by this choice."
• "When Pittsburgh takes centerstage as the host of the G-20 summit this fall, the world is going to see a city that provides a living case study of how to reinvent an economy," said U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless. "Following the steel industry's decline in the 1970s, Pittsburgh reinvented itself into a new center for bio-medical research and development and high-tech industries."
• "This is terrific news for a world-class city," said U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa. "The G-20 summit should be an economic boon for Pittsburgh and for Pennsylvania. In these times, when economies need to be resilient and adapt, Pittsburgh's history and the character of its people can teach the world a thing or two about hard work, innovation and a skilled workforce."
First Published May 29, 2009 12:00 am