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Station Square expansion: Hard Rock Cafe headlines plans for entertainment complex

Thursday, August 16, 2001

By Teresa F. Lindeman and Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

Pittsburgh may soon be playing a new version of air guitar.

The drawing shows how the Station Square complex would be transformed as seen from Downtown. Click here for more images of the project.

Hard Rock Cafe -- to open next summer as part of Bessemer Court, an expanded Station Square retail/entertainment complex -- hopes to erect a glowing neon guitar sign over its rock 'n' roll haven along the Monongahela River.

"We'd like to see that," Oliver Munday, vice president of strategic development for Hard Rock Cafe International, said at yesterday's official announcement of the $25 million Bessemer Court project.

The guitar sign along the riverfront might be tall. At the Hard Rock in Baltimore, it's 60 feet high. And at the Hard Rock in Miami the neon green Fender Stratocaster is 85 feet high.

The guitar, Munday noted, is one of the symbols of Hard Rock, a chain that's taken its rock 'n' roll theme restaurants to more than 100 cities around the world.

Munday, well aware of Pittsburgh's ongoing debate over signs Downtown and on the North and South shores, said the company wants to work with the community. He said the plans were "very flexible."

Station Square officials announced a second major development yesterday for Bessemer Court: an elevated pedestrian bridge that will arch over the busy railroad tracks along the river, linking Station Square to a new floating entertainment dock in the Monongahela.

Station Square as it looks today from Downtown.

Forest City Enterprises, which bought Station Square in 1994, estimated the bridge would cost $1 million to $2 million. U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said he had a commitment of $1 million in federal funds to help finance the project.

"This project will supplement the Bessemer Court attractions by providing boaters and water taxis with access to Station Square," he said.

The expansion of Station Square "is solid evidence of the power of public-private partnerships to make a difference for cities," said Brian J. Ratner, executive vice president of Forest City.

Will Voegele, Forest City's regional director of development, said the company decided to build the bridge over the tracks rather than tunnel under them, as was done in the late 1980s for a ramp to the Gateway Clipper Fleet dock.

He said the new bridge will start at a point just east of the existing Sheraton Station Square Hotel Pittsburgh. It will connect to the new floating dock, which will be used for musical events and festivals. There will be a 100-slip public boat dock beside the floating festival dock.


More drawings and models of the Station Square project


Mayor Tom Murphy announced that a mile-long river trail for biking, walking and jogging will be built along the Mon as part of the Station Square expansion.

Bessemer Court will also include "Dancing Waters," a 130-foot high, multicolored water jet that will be synchronized to music and fireworks. It also is to be ready by next summer.

In addition, Forest City officials plan to connect the Monongahela Incline station to the upper level of the Freight House Shops via an elevated walkway spanning Carson Street.

But most of the attention at yesterday's announcement centered on the coming of Hard Rock Cafe, which was founded in London in 1971. Like the rock stars it celebrates, Hard Rock seeks the spotlight. A restaurant in Myrtle Beach is shaped like a pyramid. King Kong can be seen climbing its Tokyo site.

The city's guidelines on signs for the Station Square area are now under review, said Susan Golomb, city planning director. Forest City Enterprises officials are developing recommendations, which should be submitted to the Planning Department soon.

Given that situation, Golomb couldn't say what would be permitted there. But she did say Station Square would probably be viewed differently than the more office-oriented Downtown district.

"This is more of an entertainment, fun sort of place," she said.

She said Station Square's visibility along the river would also have to be considered in new sign proposals.

In addition to celebrating the planned 8,100-square-foot Hard Rock Cafe, the developers yesterday offered up names of other tenants planned for the 59,000-square-foot Bessemer Court.

Pittsburgh nightclub developer Tom Jayson has signed on to open an upscale place called Mirage. Jayson now owns the Boardwalk, which floats in the Allegheny River along the Strip District, and a nightclub at Station Square called Rock Jungle.

In addition, the Funny Bone comedy club, already in the Freight House shops, will move over and be paired with Green Room comedy club cafe. A floating seasonal boardwalk/marina called The Landing is planned, as well as Bar Louie, a restaurant/bar chain from Chicago, and Joe's Crab Shack, a seafood restaurant owned by Houston-based Landry's Restaurants Inc. A deal may be close with an Irish pub based in Indianapolis known as Claddagh.

That Hard Rock was the celebrity tenant was obvious in the choice of ceremonial groundbreaking tools: shovels with six-string guitar handles. After the assembled dignitaries dug in, the band broke into a version of "Proud Mary" that turned the line "rolling on the river" into "rocking on the river."

Munday has been scouting area locations since 1997. He seemed confident this market -- like Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Bogota, Colombia -- is ready for its own Hard Rock. He quickly ran down highlights like the new stadiums and convention center and a concentration of students.

"We have a great brand. We have great food. Great music," he told the audience. "We believe it's the right time to be in Pittsburgh. We will really rock the town."

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