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Sports bar planned outside PNC Park

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Hoping to capitalize on large crowds coming to PNC Park, two Chicago businessmen will spend $2 million to convert an empty Federal Street building into a sports bar called Hi-Tops.

Mike Canace and Harold Rothstein admit they'll have to hustle to have their bar/restaurant/dance club open by the start of the Pirates season in early April, but they think it can be done.

Mike Canace, right, of Chicago, stands in a building he will lease at Federal and General Robinson streets on the North Side. Canace and his partner, Harold Rothstein, plan to open a Hi-Tops Sports Bar at that location. The bar will be designed by architect Kerry Solomon, left. (Tony Tye, Post-Gazette)

"We want to be next to baseball stadiums," Rothstein said yesterday in an interview here.

He and Canace, partners in Benchwarmers Management Group of Chicago, opened their first Hi-Tops in 1991 about 100 feet outside the right field wall of Wrigley Field. The second is set to open in January in a plaza just outside Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

The project at Federal and General Robinson streets in Pittsburgh will be their third venture. The building, with an exterior of white terra cotta, contains six sections. Hi-Tops will occupy the three vacant sections closest to General Robinson.

A fourth section is occupied by a lock company, a fifth is still vacant and the sixth will be the new location for Castellano's delicatessen and bar, which used to be across the street on part of the site where the ballpark now is.

"We like Pittsburgh," said Rothstein. "We feel it's a real solid town. People here are stable. They live here, work here, die here. And they're loyal to their sports teams."

When Rothstein first came to the city on business 20 years ago, he said a cab driver brought him to town from the airport.

"When we came through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, I saw the city and thought, 'Wow, that's impressive,' " he said.

Rothstein said Hi-Tops in Chicago has been successful not just because of its proximity to major league baseball. He said the bar is popular with college and pro football fans, basketball fans and others.

He said the Hi-Tops here would be done in Pittsburgh colors of black and gold and he hoped it would appeal to fans of the Pitt Panthers and Penn State as well as the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.

Not surprisingly, the two partners think Pittsburgh was smart to build the new ballpark.

"I know there were people who opposed the new stadiums," Rothstein said. "But they will generate long-term dollars through employment, sales taxes and property values going up. It will be serious revenue."

    Baseball greats move on

Trivia question: Who were the last two Pirates to leave Three Rivers Stadium?

Answer: Roberto Clemente and Honus Wagner.

Actually, it was the statues of the two Pirates immortals that were removed this week from their familiar perches outside the stadium in preparation for their move to PNC Park.

They were hoisted up with cranes and trucked to a temporary storage area by Franco Construction Co., which has the masonry contract at the new ballpark. The Pirates are negotiating with a contractor to refurbish them.

"They need to be cleaned up," said Steve Greenberg, the Pirates vice president of new ballpark development.

Clemente's statue will ultimately be placed in a plaza off the Roberto Clemente Bridge linking Downtown to the North Shore.

Wagner's statue will be placed behind the home plate rotunda off Federal Street.

For real trivia buffs, Wagner was also the last Pirate to leave Forbes Field. His statue remained in Oakland for a few months before it was relocated to Gate C of the Three Rivers


He said the construction of the baseball park was the main reason Hi-Tops decided to expand to Pittsburgh.

Rothstein said he likes National League teams and is considering opening yet another sports bar in Cincinnati. He likes Pittsburgh because of the rivalry between the Cubs and the Pirates.

He said many Cubs-Pirates games at Wrigley draw up to 10,000 fans who root for the Pirates, and Hi-Tops may do "cross promotions" for fans traveling from Pittsburgh to Chicago or vice versa.

The name Hi-Tops stems from the fact that some of the original company investors were from Indiana, which is known for its basketball players and the high-top sneakers they once wore.

Canace and Rothstein will lease the first two floors and the basement of the building from the owner, another Chicago businessman, Tim Fenner. He is a close friend of Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy.

The partners said they've known Fenner for about a year. Fenner owns a bar called Lakeview Links, but decided not to expand in Pittsburgh.

Fenner, who has been unavailable for comment, bought the Federal Street building in 1998 for $450,000 and has been asking as much as $2.5 million to sell it.

Rothstein said he and Canace decided to lease space. He said a recent newspaper story that put the lease cost at $25 per square foot was too high, but declined to say what the price was.

Canace said the bar will have eight TV screens, each measuring 10 feet by 10 feet, along with 65 TV monitors, tuned to a variety of different games around the country. He said he expects to hire about 75 employees, including waiters and waitresses, bartenders and cooks.

The first floor will have a 50-foot-long bar and a dance floor. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights there will be a "dance club." The second floor will feature two party rooms that can be rented. The basement will be used for storage. The third floor of the building isn't being rented by Hi-Tops and will probably be used for offices.

Canace and Rothstein have hired Pittsburgh architect Kerry Solomon to design the renovation. The interior will be gutted and the brick walls that now separate the three sections of the building will be removed and replaced with large steel columns.

A construction firm will be hired Monday, based on its ability to have the renovation job done in time for the Pirates season in April, Rothstein said. He said the contractor would face financial penalties if the work isn't completed on time.

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