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Hotel is at home in city's art center



Published: Sun, September 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Yearning for big city ambience at Midwestern prices? Try a night on the town in Pittsburgh. From ethnic to haute cuisine, sports to highbrow culture, the Steel City has diverse options for a 24-hour getaway.

One of the newest downtown accommodations is the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, which opened in March.

The real estate adage "location, location, location" rings true, especially for an overnight visit. The 300-room upscale hotel, at Sixth and Duquesne near the Allegheny River, offers visitors old-time charm and modern conveniences.

Inside: The entryway of the hotel, which is in the renovated Fulton Building, is impressive.

Visitors notice a sweeping double marble staircase, large tapestries and plush furniture in the domed two-story lobby. The rotunda, 30-feet in diameter, weighs in at 20 tons. The construction proved to be an architectural feat, since it was lifted and assembled in 1906, before the advent of cranes.

Initially, the building was designed as a hotel but functioned as office and retail space until recent transformations.

The sixth floor was a veterans hospital during World War II. When contractors opened the walls during renovations they found an X-ray lab lined with 3,000-pound lead panels, steel needles and glass syringes on the floor. Subsequent building occupants included a women's health clinic, cooking school and upscale disco.

The multimillion-dollar overhaul masks any negative residue of history. Although the guest rooms are not oversize, they are well appointed. Each room is equipped with a coffee maker, 27-inch TV with Internet access, safe, Sony play station, CD players, sample Pittsburgh artists CDs, and comfortable king or queen size beds. The bathroom vanities are granite topped and offer Bath and Body Works products.

If a room with a view is a priority, request accommodations that face the river. These rooms have as many as three large picture windows with a bird's-eye view of PNC Park. While weekend package rates may start at $99 per night, the better views are more expensive.

Outside: The hotel is surrounded by the city's cultural district, a 14-block area bounded by Liberty Avenue, the Allegheny River and 10th and Stanwix streets.

A short walk transports you to the sounds of the Pittsburgh Symphony at Heinz Hall. Next to the hotel, settle in for old movie classics at Byham Theater. A few blocks away, ballet, opera and special performances are held at Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. O'Reilley Theater is home to Pittsburgh Public Theater. Wood Street Galleries offers contemporary internationally recognized visual artists. David L. Lawrence Convention Center is two blocks away.

Public art adorns several corners in the district. Richard Haas created a mural to the city's steel heritage between Sixth and Seventh streets. At the corner of Penn Avenue and Seventh Street, Alexandr Brodsky constructed a house-like structure with scaffold tube and steel wire mesh to build "Palazzo Nudo." A 20-foot high pyramid mound of facade remnants from demolished buildings from the cultural district are housed in a see-through steel beam structure.

Across the street at Agnes R. Katz Plaza, water cascades down a 25-foot bronze fountain designed by Louise Bourgeois. In the same plaza, three pairs of large black granite benches resembling human eyes offer comfort and a source of conversation.

If the Pirates or Steelers are more appealing than sculpture, sports fans can cross the river from the hotel to the two new stadiums.

XComing up in two weeks: Where to find fine cuisine, hot jazz and a down-to-earth breakfast.




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