Hollow words. That's all the assurances by the Downtown Hilton's owners will be unless Pittsburghers see contractors hard at work to finish the hotel's renovation.
The on-again, off-again $25 million project is an eyesore ready to give a bad first impression of the city to world leaders who will attend the G-20 summit here in September. Sitting as the hotel does at the end of the Fort Pitt Bridge, the Hilton is the gateway to the Golden Triangle -- and, with an unfinished steel skeleton outside its front door, what a sorry vision the idle site is.
Because Florida-based Shubh Hotels LLC failed to pay $317,273 in bills, contractor P.J. Dick pulled its workers off the property in May, halting work for the second time in the last year. Based on a dozen other companies left holding the bag, Shubh is getting a reputation for not being able to handle its bills.
Among them is Chester Pool Systems Inc., which says Shubh owes it $129,000 for a custom-built pool that was to be part of the renovation.
Engineering firm Whitney Bailey Cox & Magnani LLC says it's been waiting over a year for $100,000 in design fees. Four hotel unions say the Hilton owners have failed to make more than $34,000 in required pension, benefit and annuity payments for hotel workers.
Do the Hilton's owners want to do business in Pittsburgh or not? They've lost their standing as a good civic neighbor. The question now is whether they truly want to be a hotelier at all.
In a phone interview Friday with Post-Gazette staff writer Mark Belko, Harris Mathis, Shubh's chief operating officer, said, "We want to get that project finished as much as anybody."
We'll believe it when we see it.
He said the company was working on its debt with P.J. Dick "to get that caught up to get them back on the job."
How about this week?
Mr. Mathis and his company have tremendous opportunity at this premier location, and its interior renovation has certainly modernized and improved the building. But anyone who walks or drives by the all-too-still exterior has to wonder if the Hilton's owners have the wherewithal to be in the hotel business.
Come September, some international visitors will wonder the same thing.