So the new Capital Grille is opening up downtown. Will an upscale steakhouse succeed where Renaissance I, Renaissance II, Three Rivers Stadium, PNC Park, Heinz Field, and the convention center failed? That is, will it revitalize downtown? Maybe, if you combine that and all the other projects going on down there.
So, will we finally get a 24-hour downtown for all those hundreds of millions (billions?) of public dollars invested?
"I believe that once that happens with G.C. Murphy's, once that happens with PNC, once that happens with Piatt Place, then all of the sudden that property becomes more valuable and I think you're just going to see, slowly but surely, the gradual growth around those areas happen," [Mayor Luke Ravenstahl] said. "Just like it's taken time to get where we are now, it's going to take time to revitalize all those blighted areas of Downtown."
Herky Pollock, the executive vice president of real estate firm CB Richard Ellis/Pittsburgh who is helping to market the Millcraft projects, said that until now, other property owners in the corridor have not had the benefit of the foot traffic from the Capital Grille and Piatt Place development.
"Once they see the potential of a quality establishment and the rents they're able to garner, these developers most definitely will realize the opportunity before them," he said.
The question of what role restaurants play in revitalizing downtowns is not a trivial one, by the way. Check out Richard's Rules for Restaurant Driven Revitalization. I find this really interesting:
Steven Gartner, president of Metro Commercial Real Estate, the revitalization of urban retail follows four phases. Gartner played a leading role in Center City Philadelphia's expanding retail scene and many of its economically-growing neighborhoods.
1. Local restaurants, started by great chefs. Or visionary entrepreneurs who know great chefs. People will venture out to on-the-edge neighborhoods for acclaimed food, often in tiny venues. They'll take even more risks for top live music.
2. Larger format restaurants that represent more of an investment and draw a larger audience from a larger geographic area. Essentially the same people as above who now have a more established customer base.
3. Locally-owned specialty retail shops, including art galleries. Yes, but only after there's a base population of diners and entertainment seekers that provide the foot traffic.
4. National chains, the risk-averse businesses that hike up rents, this only happens if there is a weak sense of community, otherwise the local residents prefer independents that support their economy and culture.
OK. But doesn't it kind of seem like Pittsburgh is skipping right to number four? Back to the Post-Gazette article:
In November, another chain restaurant, McCormick & Schmick's, will join Capital Grille on the first floor.
Which of course goes back to something discussed here a while back: "Charm." Last year, Herb Burger, Chairman of the Pittsburgh Task Force, wrote an op-ed extolling the work the Piatts were set to do downtown. Part of that op-ed suggested:
We need to sort out more qualities that will add warmth and charm to the new Downtown -- make it attractive physically and economically.
Now, I don't think these things are necessarily exclusive. But neither do they necessarily go hand in hand. Las Vegas isn't warm and charming. But it is economically attractive. Same as, say, Shenzen, China. But that's neither here nor there. What I am getting at is, we do seem to be angling for national chain restaurants downtown. Good thing? Bad thing? Hell if I know. But even if they are the right choice, they certainly don't provide much charm.
As for steakhouses, I like them. I am a meat and potatoes fellow. But to be honest, Outback is fine for my unsophisticated tastes. A former boss took me to Ruth's Chris once. It was good, I guess. But I was underwhelmed. That is, it wasn't any better than most other steaks I've had. Another time, I took my wife to a fancy local place in DC. I think it was called Sam and Harry's. Very posh. It cost us $175. Tasty. But after it was all said and done, we would have rather eaten somewhere cheaper and spent the difference on booze.
Like most things, there seems to be a plateau, and a $13 dollar steak is about all the steak I need. I am not saying that there isn't a difference. Just that I can't tell. So I'd rather save the money.
But that's just me.