Despite Roadblocks, Pittsburgh Still Covets Convention Center Hotel

In spite of poor economic conditions, officials in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, Pa., have approached Cleveland-based developer Forest City Enterprises in order to explore the feasibility of building a long-delayed hotel connecting to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

City and county officials had previously worked with Forest City to design a convention center hotel, but called off negotiations several months ago when the developer suggested cutting the number of proposed rooms from 500 to 300 in order to accommodate the project's $104 million budget. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, they're approaching the company one last time in order to find out how, exactly, it would spend the project budget, and whether or not it can create a design with 400 or 500 rooms.

"We recognize this isn't a great market to be doing [a hotel] and we thought it made sense to talk to Forest City again to review the project with them [...] and to see if we could reach an agreement," Mary Conturo, executive director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, told the Post-Gazette.

According to the paper, Pittsburgh has been eyeing a 500-room hotel attached to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for nearly a decade. Although the city chose Forest City to build the hotel in 2003, the project has been stalled since then due to funding shortfalls and design disagreements.

Still, local tourism officials insist that the hotel is necessary in order to grow Pittsburgh's meetings and conventions business. In fact, Joseph McGrath, president of Visit Pittsburgh, told the Post-Gazette that Pittsburgh loses 80,000 room nights a year because it lacks a convention center hotel.

Because Forest City owns the 616-room Westin Convention Center hotel—which is located next to the convention center, but not connected to it—city and county officials say that it remains the logical choice as partner for the new hotel. If Forest City declines to work on the project, the Sports & Exhibition Authority may approach other developers, although it's said it won't formally submit a new request for proposals until after the economy has improved.