Category Archives: pittsburgh

Election Day: Allegheny County DA fends off challenger, and more election news

Did you know 2020 is a leap year? One extra day has been tucked into the circus that will be the 2020 presidential election.

But until then, there is a slew of important local elections happening across Allegheny County and the country. Local elections matter.

In Allegheny County:

  • Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D-Pittsburgh) easily defeated his challenger for a third term (WTAE)
  • Controller Chelsa Wagner (D-Pittsburgh) also came away with a big win against her challenger (WTAE)
  • District Attorney Stephen Zappala (D) defeated challenger Lisa Middleman (Post-Gazette)
  • Joe Biden surprised Allegheny County Dems tonight with a random visit (Post-Gazette)
  • An ally of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto will replace outspoken mayoral critic Darlene Harris on Pittsburgh council (Post-Gazette)
  • Pittsburgh residents to pay higher taxes after parks vote (Pittsburgh Patch)

By the way, it looks like voter turnout in Allegheny County was just shy of 28 percent. I think officials estimated a 27 percent turnout. (This percentage might change slightly as not all precincts are reporting, as of 12:10 a.m. Nov. 6.)

And some big news around the country:

  • Democrats projected to flip Virginia Senate and House, taking control of state government for the first time in a generation (WaPo)
  • Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is the apparent winner over Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (NBC News)

Plus, check out these stories:

  • One Western Pennsylvania voter cast his absentee ballot … from the International Space Station (AP/WESA)
  • Woman who was fired for flipping off Trump motorcade won an election in Virginia (BuzzFeed News)
  • For the first time since 1981, Democrats won a majority of city council seats in Columbus, Indiana, which just so happens to be the hometown of VP Mike Pence (WXIN)

Getting nebby with Doors Open Pittsburgh

tl;dr: Scroll down for some amazing views.


For two days each fall, Pittsburghers get a chance to be a little nebby (that’s Pittsburghese for nosey) in many Downtown (and North Side) buildings.

Through the nonprofit group Doors Open Pittsburgh, dozens of buildings’ doors are opened to give people access that otherwise is off limits or rare.

I’m someone who loves learning about history (especially local history). I’m not someone who can spout off architecture or architects, though, but I can still appreciate it and understand that development threatens far too much of our city’s history.

With Doors Open Pittsburgh, participants can browse lobbies, theaters, top floors, ballrooms, boardrooms, vaults and so much more!

On the first day of Doors Open Pittsburgh 2019, I managed to get to 10 spots on the tour. (Sounds impressive, but there are something like 50-plus stops!!) I planned to get to a few more, but I got a late start and some places had closed by the time I started my trek.

Some of the spots offered are in the same building. For instance, the tour separately lists the Office of the Mayor, Council Chambers and the City-County Building. It also separately lists the Kopper Building and the Kopper Building Innovation Space.

So, I mapped out my trip for Saturday afternoon, following Fourth Avenue and Grant Street.

On Day 1, I followed Fourth Avenue and Grant Street, taking in a number of buildings along those streets.

The Bank Tower on Fourth was my first stop. I was not aware that Point Park University owned the building. And I also was not interested in walking up 16 flights only to walk back down!

Be sure to scroll through the photos to see more from The Bank Tower.

Among my stops was Dollar Bank on Fourth Avenue near Smithfield Street. This building isn’t the bank’s headquarters (that’s on Liberty Avenue), but the amount of history and stunning features inside of it might make you think otherwise.

Also, be sure to check out a surprise photo of who one of the customers of Dollar Bank was! Most of you probably won’t care, but I geeked out when I saw!

I then made my way to the City-County Building. I’ve been here before, but it’s usually been for business, so no time to really enjoy the space. (Sadly, the archives room was full with some kind of apparent tour group, so I wasn’t able to peek inside.)

I also forgot to edit these photos, so they’re all a bit slanted. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They all lean left, though, just like Mayor Peduto!

OK, check out this gorgeous view up from the Union Trust building.

OK, so I care about one building more than any other, and sadly, the insides were destroyed and gutted to make way for progress (insert eyeroll emoji). The shell of the building still stands as does its iconic ornate piece.

And while I’m happy to see the building standing, it’s hard to accept it as a total win when very little of the inside architecture remains.

Of course the building I’m referring to is the Kaufmann’s Department Store at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street. Since Macy’s closed it in 2015, the building has been turned into a multi-use development that includes apartments, a hotel, a parking garage (that I don’t think is open yet?) and lower level retail.

On a walking group tour last year of Pittsburgh’s old department store scene, I was able to go inside the Kaufmann’s Grand on Fifth apartments, which was the old Arcade level – with the Arcade Bakery, candy counter, card shop, etc. The third and fourth floors were gutted to make the lobby massive. But the row of elevators that existed in the department store remain.

On Day 1 of the 2019 Doors Open Pittsburgh event, I noted Kaufmann’s in a few different ways.

First, Kaufmann’s Department Store was a customer of Dollar Bank back in the day.

The bank even had old bank forms from the department store.

At the 2018 Doors Open Pittsburgh, I made a surprise discovery on the 25th floor of the Embassy Suites – you could look at the Kaufmann’s building to see the construction happening.

Last year’s shock was seeing the giant hole cut into the building.

I hadn’t planned to go inside the Embassy Suites this year, but did just to see the view of Kaufmann’s and check in on rooftop construction.

Also, peek-a-boo, clock!

You’ll want to swipe through my Union Trust building photos on Instagram.

Quite possibly some of the most breathtaking views came from the Koppers Building on Seventh Avenue.

On the 29th floor is an innovation center and a rooftop area that offered some amazing views of the North Side and beyond, down Bigelow Boulevard and The Strip, and the Hill District and Oakland.

And, this amazing note in the Koppers Building is rooting for all of us:

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Getting around Pittsburgh ain’t easy

Ever get caught in construction that you either didn’t know about or forgot? We’ve all been there.

One Sunday night several years ago, I was coming home from the Harrisburg area and was excited to be getting off the Turnpike at Monroeville, only to be stopped several miles later in standstill traffic.

What should have been an easy 25-minute ride from the Turnpike to my house ended up taking nearly an hour on a Sunday night.

Or many years ago when PennDOT was screwing with the old West End “Circle” and had squiggly arrows on detour signs that made zero sense.

Admittedly, this sign making the rounds on Facebook isn’t the worst I’ve seen (though, it does send all of the detour traffic the same way, which can’t be good), but it’s still very much so very indicative of Pittsburgh traffic.

But from the looks of it, if you’re going to Mt. Lebanon, you won’t hit much traffic.

Kennywood’s Steel Curtain coaster packs thrills, frights, fun into ride

I don’t know if I’ve laughed as much and at the same time been as apprehensive as I was today taking my first ride on Kennywood Park’s record-breaking coaster, The Steel Curtain.

Kennywood offered a first look to media and some very important guests before the ride officially opens Saturday to the public.

Bobby.jpg

Special thanks to my friend Kristina Serafini for capturing this shot of me buckling in for the ride.

In a name that pays homage to the Pittsburgh Steelers and its thrilling run of the 1970s, The Steel Curtain is packed with inversions, corkscrews, speed and thrills that are only for the best football fans in the nation. (There was a woman in a Detroit Lions shirt and some guy in a Cleveland Browns shirt today and I have many questions.)

Check out the stats for this beast:

  • Nine inversions (the most of any roller coaster in North America)
  • World’s tallest inversion at 197 feet high
  • Pennsylvania’s tallest roller coaster at 220 feet
  • Lift Angle: 50 degrees
  • Length: 4,000 feet
  • Duration: 2 minutes
  • Passengers: 24
  • Speed: 76 mph

Several current and former Steelers players had a chance to ride today, including Matt Feiler, whose first attempt didn’t go so smoothly. The 6-feet, 6-inch and 330-pound guy had to have ride staffers configure the seat for him, but it kept him from riding with fellow Steelers players.

In between his first attempt and his actual ride, I talked with him a bit. He told me he enjoys coasters, but it’s difficult to find ones he’s able to get on.

At the end of his ride, he told me The Steel Curtain was “awesome.”

Craig Wolfley, Cam Heyward and John Banaszak were among members of the Steelers family who took first rides.

No Steelers event is complete without “Renegade” blasting and a Terrible Towel wave. The song plays in short snippets as the train heads up the lift hill. And, of course, it was the lead song for today’s press conference and ribbon cutting ceremony for Steelers Country, which is a new themed area that ties two of Pittsburgh’s greatest institutions: the Steelers and Kennywood.

And Bill Hillgrove got the crowed amped with a Terrible Towel wave right before Kennywood Park officially opened Steelers Country’s big attraction, The Steel Curtain. (The park is finalizing other great experiences to be part of Steelers Country, and plan to use the area for a variety of events … some Super Bowl parties would be fun, *hint* *hint* get to the Super Bowl, Stillers *nudge* *nudge*.)

Oh, and, of course there were fireworks! What Pittsburgh celebration would be complete without fireworks? Even if it was like 10 in the morning.

OK, so what about the actual ride, you ask?

I tried to explain the experience in today’s edition of Inside Pittsburgh (which yinz should subscribe to!). But it’s hard to really put into words how incredible this coaster is.

The lift hill slowly pulls you up for as few moments before jutting you to the top. And from there, you’re just taken through the twists and turns of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the Steelers D line. (But for those wondering, it is a totally smooth ride!)

From my piece in today’s Inside Pittsburgh newsletter:

The Steelers-themed train offers no enclosure, so riders are left feeling vulnerable — which is part of the thrill. Only a seat belt and lap bar hold passengers in. When I looked to my left, I saw what had to have been the steepest set of stairs I’ve ever seen. The faint sounds of that Steelers amp-up song “Renegade” by the Styx only added to the excitement up the lifthill.

After that, the entire ride was as heart-pumping as the final seconds of a Steelers-Ravens clash, with twists, turns and inversions only fit for the toughest football fans in the nation. The zero-G inversion was thrilling, but there wasn’t much time to enjoy it as we roared into a set of corkscrews. Near the end of the ride is a bump akin to the bunny hops near the end of Phantom’s Revenge.

If you’re heading to the park this weekend or any time soon, hit me up: I’ve got a season pass and will be your ride partner on The Steel Curtain.

 

Kennywood Park at 120

This year marks Kennywood Park’s 120th anniversary.

I visited the venerable Pittsburgh area amusement park on Saturday as part of its Season Passholder Appreciation Weekend.

Among the major changes the park will see this year include a multi-million dollar Thomas the Train addition, dubbed Thomas Town. You can read more about that addition here.

Changes to the train (part of the Thomas Town addition) meant Laffin’ Sal — the somewhat creepy character who has cackled loudly for a few decades in front of the train — was relocated. She’s not part of any ride right now, but park goers will have easier access to selfies with Sal!

Of course, 2017 was the final year for the very popular Log Jammer log flume ride. It was the park’s first $1 million addition when it was built in the 1970s. The park has not yet announced what will be located in that corner of the park. But there is reason to believe that a roller coaster will be placed on and around the land. Hopefully we’ll know soon!

Along with the park’s 120th anniversary, they will honor the Thunderbolt, which is in its 50th year. Fun fact, the trains for Thunderbolt are from the original coaster on that site — Pippin!

And, get this … Exterminator is 20 years old this year. I’m now at the age where hearing things like that makes me feel old like a life expert.

Kennywood opens May 5 for weekends, and will open for daily summer operation later in May. Find all of the details at kennywood.com.