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Teresa Heinz plays an influential role in Pittsburgh's redevelopment

Sunday, February 27, 2000

By Dan Fitzpatrick and Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

On a warm evening last May, Mayor Murphy led a group of business executives and foundation officials up the steep Fox Chapel driveway of Teresa Heinz, one of the richest women in America. Surrounded by woods and rolling hills, Heinz's 100-acre estate was the setting for an elegant dinner party. On the menu were salmon, wine and riverfront development. Before dinner started, several of the guests collected around a coffee table covered with a map of Downtown. Pointing to sections of the map, Murphy talked about his riverfront plans.

  From the offices of the Heinz Endowments on the 32nd floor of CNG Tower, Teresa Heinz can get a panoramic overview of Pittsburgh -- its problems and its potential. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette)

Heinz, heir to an estimated $626 million pickle-and-ketchup fortune, had some concerns.

Heinz had organized the May 12 party because she wanted an update on the city's redevelopment efforts -- especially along the rivers. A few months earlier, the Heinz Endowments and other foundations had sponsored a $700,000 competition to totally redesign the undersized David L. Lawrence Convention Center -- a competition that led to the selection of New York City architect Rafael Vinoly and his design that includes a stainless-steel roof sloping toward the Allegheny River.

"Teresa took the lead" on the design competition, said Joseph Kane, head of the commission that is overseeing the convention center project. In the wake of that effort, the 61-year-old Heinz wanted Pittsburgh's riverfronts to develop in a way that was sensible, organized and environmentally friendly.

Among those at the table in Fox Chapel were Murphy's top aide, Tom Cox; city Planning Director Eloise Hirsh; then President and now CEO of PNC Bank Jim Rohr; Mellon Bank chief Martin McGuinn; and several foundation officials, including the incoming director of the Heinz Endowments, Maxwell King.

They discussed what later would become the Riverlife Task Force, a 40-person group interested in a cohesive, unified design for Pittsburgh's riverfronts.

That night, Heinz said, "We offered to do anything to make it possible." To get things started, she told the mayor she would commit $250,000 through the Heinz Endowments, which has about $1.5 billion in assets.

Her ability to pull people together, encourage conversation on an important topic and lead the group in a new direction is indicative of her growing influence on the nature of new development in Pittsburgh.

Since 1991, when her late husband, U.S. Sen. John Heinz, died in a twin-engine plane crash near Philadelphia, the woman born in Mozambique to Portuguese parents has spent much of her time reorganizing and redirecting the family philanthropies. The environment, health, children and women have been her big causes.

In the last several years, though, Heinz has turned her attention to how Pittsburgh looks architecturally and the message that sends to the world.

Hirsh said Heinz "doesn't want to settle" for mediocrity.

"She has been nudging us to look at ourselves in a different sort of way," Murphy said. "Clearly, Teresa is making a mark on what is happening."

But she makes her mark subtly.

"I think of her as a convener," said Grant Oliphant, spokesman for the Heinz Endowments.

When Vinoly got the assignment to completely redesign the convention center, Heinz took him to her penthouse office on the 32nd floor of CNG Tower, which features a panoramic view of Downtown Pittsburgh. It was February 1999.

Looking down, Vinoly said, "People in this town don't know what a gem this town is," Heinz recalled in an interview last week.

Vinoly told Heinz that several new development projects were being discussed for the North Shore. But he felt the city lacked a master plan to tie all the projects together and hold them to consistent design standards.

Heinz, already upset about the design of a new apartment complex on the north shore of the Allegheny River, called the mayor. "I said, 'You know, this concerns me,' " Heinz said. " 'I would love to sit down and talk to you and just feel a little bit more reassured.'

"And he did, and so that was very useful," she said.

Fun on the North Shore

When Heinz saw Steelers President Dan Rooney last year, she talked about how she would like to see a "great, fun, destination hotel" near the new football and baseball stadiums.

She mentioned to Rooney some mutual acquaintances in the hotel business who have done good work in other cities.

Dan's son Art Rooney II, team vice president, agreed: "The idea of fun is what we expect the North Shore to be about," he said. "We think it should be the fun place to go in Pittsburgh. A hotel and entertainment attractions should be an important part of it all."

Another person who hears from Heinz regularly is Carol Brown, president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which relies on the Heinz Endowments for funding.

Heinz participated in the selection of an architect for the District's new O'Reilly Theater, which opened last month. Brown also involved Heinz in the design of the Allegheny Riverfront Park.

"She works behind the scenes to encourage good design," Brown said.

When asked about her influence on new riverfront development, Heinz said: "Influence is an interesting word. If you think of how parents try to influence children, how do you do it? Two ways I can think of. Ask smart questions and show by example. It doesn't always work, but those are the two best ways I know of. Of course, there is the old one with the whip, but I don't think that's so smart. Sometimes it's easier, but not so smart."

Cliff Shannon, who worked for Sen. Heinz from 1976 to 1991, said Teresa uses different ways to get involved, depending on the situation.

"She is a person with strong points of view, and she will use the means she thinks are best to push her points of view. That doesn't mean everything is going to be the landing on Iwo Jima. She can work within groups, behind the scenes or she can be outspoken."

Missing the family business

Sometimes, Heinz wishes she had more influence at the H.J. Heinz Co., the international food company founded in 1869.

When Sen. Heinz died, he was the company's largest individual shareholder. The senator's death, though, effectively ended the Heinz family's involvement in the company.

Charitable foundations, endowments and certain family trusts bearing the Heinz name now control 2.15 million of the company's 354 million outstanding shares, or less than 1 percent. Teresa Heinz does not have a seat on the board.

On Wall Street, pressure is mounting for the Heinz company to boost its sagging stock with a merger. It is conceivable that a consolidation could force Heinz to relinquish management control and its headquarters.

"I don't have any real leverage," Heinz said. "I wish I did, but I don't. But it would be sad to think that Heinz could leave Pittsburgh. I think that emotionally, for Pittsburgh, we have had too many losses. It would be very sad, but it is not up to me."

Last year, Heinz considered building a new headquarters Downtown. When asked about that, Teresa said, "Why don't they stay on the North Side? Heinz Company is on the North Side."

When asked about politics, though, Heinz cut the conversation short.

In the early 1990s, it was widely assumed that she wanted to put her experience to work in a political career of her own. Fluent in five languages, Heinz worked for the United Nations before marrying John Heinz in 1966. In 1993, though, she decided not to seek the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by her late husband.

In 1995, she married U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. "I have more politics than I want in my life," she said.

Heinz was in town last week to meet Alex Krieger, an internationally known architect and urban planner from Cambridge, Mass., who was chosen as a consultant to the Riverlife Task Force.

She is not in Pittsburgh often. The Fox Chapel estate, in fact, is one of her five homes. She also has a Sun Valley, Idaho, home made from a 16th-century English barn; a mansion in Boston's Louisburg Square; a Georgetown townhouse; and a home on Nantucket Island, off Massachusetts.

Her oldest son, John IV, lives near Philadelphia. He is 33 and serves on the board of the Howard Heinz Endowment. Andre, the middle son, lives in Sweden. He is 30 and serves on the board of the second family endowment, the Vira I. Heinz Endowment. Her youngest son, Christopher, attends Harvard Business School and lives in Boston.

She said she gets involved in Pittsburgh issues "because I want my boys to move back here. Eventually, at least some of them. I want my children to feel they are Pittsburghers. Half of me is always here. Half of my heart is here.

"I always think, both with promise and longing and also with frustration, about things that could be done that would be so amazing. And they are not being done, necessarily."

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