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Pittsburgh begins brainstorming for G-20 summit

A wide-ranging, summer-long effort to spruce up, secure and show off Pittsburgh for a September influx of international leaders and journalists got under way yesterday with a brainstorming session limited by mere wisps of information.

A wide-ranging, summer-long effort to spruce up, secure and show off Pittsburgh for a September influx of international leaders and journalists got under way yesterday with a brainstorming session limited by mere wisps of information.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato led around 40 leaders of their governments, related agencies, and two key private-sector partners in a first stab at dividing up the job of hosting the G-20 summit of global heads of state and finance ministers, set for Sept. 24 and 25 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

"This is in many ways a White House-run show; we just need to be prepared to adjust to whatever it is they need," said Mr. Ravenstahl.

"It's only 15 weeks, so this is a real quick turnaround, and we're making sure that we coordinate all the issues that we know are out there, as well as issues we don't know yet," said Mr. Onorato.

The White House picked Pittsburgh to host the summit, which local officials said could bring in as many as 2,000 official participants, including heads of state and finance ministers from economically important nations as diverse as Argentina and Japan; 3,000 media representatives from scores of countries; and any number of protesters. A White House spokesperson would say only that the participants will include "hundreds" of formal delegation members and hundreds more logistics, communications and security personnel, joined by thousands of reporters. Around 2,500 journalists were credentialed to cover the G-20's last meeting, in London in April.

Yesterday's one-hour meeting at the Regional Enterprise Tower was all local, involving top public safety and public works officials from the city and county; agencies including the Sports & Exhibition Authority, Airport Authority, Allegheny County Jail and Allegheny County Courts; and the two key private sector groups, VisitPittsburgh and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Local government's role is to make the experience of being in Pittsburgh a safe and impressive one, from the moment the planes touch down to the meetings to departure.

Quasi-private VisitPittsburgh is coordinating the lodging of as many as 3,500 guests, and has already created a secure Web site governments can use to identify the right rooms for their delegations. It is helping advance teams from abroad that started arriving Friday -- just a day after the White House announced the summit's location.

The private Allegheny Conference's emerging role is to seize "an opportunity to dispel the smoky-city image once and for all," as its spokesman, Bill Flanagan, put it. Details of a regional marketing push are on hold pending White House guidance.

That core group will likely grow, and by next week it could morph into a host committee, co-chaired by Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Onorato, and divided into subgroups.

"We instructed everybody to get back together next week, and we're going to actually put names on the categories: Public safety, events, volunteerism, whatever the categories are," said Mr. Onorato. There will also be an infrastructure committee assigned to ensuring that roads and other public properties are up to snuff, a group assigned to handling media, and one or more people fielding the offers of help pouring in from companies, universities and ethnic organizations.

It's possible, but not certain, that the city, county and key organizations will name a go-to person to head up the effort on a day-to-day basis. So far, city Chief of Staff Yarone Zober and county Chief of Staff Shawn Fox are handling coordination with the White House.

Still uncertain is what the city and county will do with a flood of ideas for spin-off events.

"All of the ethnic groups have called. The universities have called," said Mr. Onorato. "We're handling all of these requests that are coming in, from corporate leaders to school children that are calling," he said, adding that the White House, and possibly the guest nations, will decide what, if any, spin-off events are sanctioned.

The White House had no guidance on that yesterday.

Count the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as one local institution hoping to make the most of the international spotlight. The 50,000-employee hospital system is planning to showcase the new Children's Hospital, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, its cancer clinics, international locations, and "Pittsburgh's remarkable economic turnaround, which can be a model for the rest of the world," said Paul Wood, UPMC vice president of public relations. It is working on plans to show how its efforts, from green buildings to electronic medical records, are in synch with the thinking of President Barack Obama and other leaders.

"This is about the world coming here, having meetings," said Mr. Onorato. "There might be limited events for the general public."

The city and the county plan to keep track of security expenses and submit them to the Secret Service or Department of Homeland Security. They're also identifying grants that could help defray other costs.

For infrastructure improvements, "we'll go out and find the money," said Mr. Onorato, citing the example of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2006, for which the city and the county sought funding from state sources to pave around the stadiums and around Downtown hotels.