Unlike most American cities, Pittsburgh has a grand entrance, and local residents take pride in using it to show off the skyline to first-time visitors coming from the airport. That entry, of course, is the Fort Pitt Bridge, where Downtown bursts into view upon motorists leaving the tunnel.
Much of what the city is and what it tries to project is bundled in that first impression, which is stamped on every newcomer's mind as they cross the golden bridge.
At the end of the bridge today is not just a construction site, but an eyesore that mars the city's famous entry. Work has been halted on a $25 million renovation at the Hilton hotel that fronts Point State Park, and left for everyone's viewing pleasure is a brown skeletal superstructure that is not likely to be finished anytime soon.
The project went stillborn because the owner, Shubh Hotels Pittsburgh LLC, has failed to pay contractor P.J. Dick for $317,273 of work, according to the contractor. So construction was halted May 15 at the 700-room hotel. This is only the latest financial failure at the Hilton, which once prided itself as a premier property. Last year Shubh failed to pay $575,539, after which P.J. Dick pulled its workers then, too, until payment was completed in November.
Such a prominent location deserves a good neighbor and, clearly, Shubh is not it. By inflicting this on-again, off-again work pattern on Downtown, it has broken faith with the city and is unworthy of its construction permit. Yet it's the respected Hilton name that sits atop the building and that comes in for derision when Pittsburghers see the barricades and unfinished work that detracts from their streets.
The Hilton Hotels Corp. should be concerned about that. Shubh is certainly doing the chain no favors by being the bad kid on the block and, particularly with the G-20 global summit coming in September, Hilton is bound to face further abuse for its stalled and unsightly work site.
While elsewhere Pittsburgh is cleaning up the town, holding brainstorming sessions and spending whatever it takes to show off for the G-20, none of this will be enough to address the blight at Liberty and Commonwealth.
It's time for the Hilton chain, which owned this property until 2006, to take back this problem child and get the Shubh group out of the picture. Only then will it behave like a Hilton worthy of the name. Only then will it be the responsible citizen and good neighbor that Downtown Pittsburgh deserves.