Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday: There Goes the Neighborhood

PITTSBURGH has undergone a striking renaissance from a down-and-out smokestack to a gleaming cultural oasis. But old stereotypes die hard, and Pittsburgh probably doesn’t make many people’s short list for a cosmopolitan getaway. Too bad, because this city of 89 distinct neighborhoods is a cool and — dare I say, hip—city. (New York Times, Jeff Schlegel)


Take a breather with a cup of coffee and a mele, a fruit-filled pastry, at La Prima Espresso Company (205 21st Street; 412-565-7070), where the old men sitting at the outdoor tables look like they’ve been sipping espresso and playing cards for eternity.

There goes the neighborhood.

The Parador Inn of Pittsburgh (939 Western Avenue; 412-231-4800; is a Caribbean-themed bed-and-breakfast in an 1870s mansion on the city’s North Side. All rooms are $150 a night.



"Why are we participating in these complex deals, when the board members don't understand them, they've caused huge losses in other communities in Pennsylvania and they've led to criminal [probes] in other jurisdictions?" Mr. Lamb asked, after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette presented summaries of costs of this and other debt packages engineered by the city and its authorities since 2006. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Hence our "new council" getting all irate and sanctimonious when the Water Authority demanded last-minute approval on these deals.

(AFTERTHOUGHT: Why, if Char hit this up in April, did Our Controller muster some incredulity only after the Post-Gazette presented its packages?)

According to Jason DiMartini, a director at PNC Capital Markets, which advises the authority on financial matters, the swaps had the effect of lowering the interest on some of the debt by half a percentage point, to 3.9 percent, saving millions of dollars.

The costs of last month's package, though, don't have recent precedent, with insurers and professionals taking $12.5 million, or 3 cents on the dollar -- double what the city and its agencies have been paying on bond deals.

"Absolutely, it's high," said Mr. Lamb. He noted that part of the rationale for the 2007 deal was that it capped costs for a future package. "When they went into the swap deal, the authority was sold a bill of goods."

We can believe that. PNC needs to eat.

"There's a pay-to-play mentality" in which anyone who wants a piece of the action feels the need to make campaign contributions, said city Councilman William Peduto. He said he is working on legislation that would require the competitive bidding of all city contracts, including professional gigs that can now be doled out without any objective effort to compare competing firms. (P-G, other Rich Lord)

From Wikipedia: "In politics, pay to play refers to a system, akin to payola in the music industry, by which one pays (or must pay) money in order to become a player."

Na na na na, na na na na na. Taira Illana, el tuu nakkeja.


Both issues -- the delay in riverfront elements and the financing -- could come before the gaming board this week, although nothing had been scheduled as of late last week. Mr. Onorato said the board must give direction on both issues.

"They've got to give us some answers, some signals here," he said. (P-G, Mark Belko)

We're beginning to think the state doesn't "do" advice.

Although casino developer Don Barden has run into some serious problems of his own in Pittsburgh, the developers of SugarHouse and Foxwoods [in Philadelphia] would swap their problems for his in a heartbeat. (P-G, Tom Barnes)

Just his luck this piece ran on a Saturday.

So what's the problem in Philadelphia? Strong protests by neighborhood groups complaining the two sites are too close to houses, schools and places of worship have kept the casinos from getting necessary zoning and construction approvals.

Imagine that. Do these people not understand it is the sacred mission of municipal zoning and planning boards to move development forward?

The politicians have been listening to the protesters. Mayor Michael Nutter, some City Council members and some state legislators, including even pro-casino Sen. Vincent Fumo, a South Philadelphia Democrat, have expressed concerns about the current casino locations.

This is too bizarre for words.

Mayor Nutter is also concerned about too much traffic on local streets near the casinos, especially Columbus Boulevard, also known as Delaware Avenue.

As we all ponder the wisdom of Our Gaming Control Board handing the slots license to Don Barden on the North Shore -- dirty pictures notwithstanding -- do not forget that traaaaaafffffiiiicccc was another huge concern.

"Philadelphia is not contributing to the fund,'' said Rep. Bob Godshall, a Republican from nearby Delaware County, where the Harrah's Chester racetrack/casino is operating, about 10 miles south of Philadelphia.

The failure of the Philadelphia casinos to produce tax relief funds "is robbing the rest of us,'' he said.

See? Keeping up with the Joneses.

CRAZY: Do you see what is going on over at the P-G Casino Journal? Between this and a more chillaxed Conversation, it's as though someone at the paper is beginning to awaken to the Tao.


  1. I was trying to ascertain if you were poking fun @ the fact the NY Times published a damn fine piece about Pittsburgh, one that will hopefully encourage folks to come to our fine city and visit, spend money, generate revenue, or you were basically dissing it for some odd reason that was not completely apparently of easily understandable...

  2. Understandable. No, that was just an attempt at dry humor. The Times article was wondrous from top to bottom. I wonder if there are any Times Travel section fanatics who are known to hop a jet to take those "36 hour" trip suggestions the next day?