Welcome to Pittsburgh for the ATSI Convention

By Donna West and Kelli Robbins

As recently as the 1970s, Pittsburgh was a steel town; the city was coated in billions upon billions of microscopic steel remnants, making it look (and smell) dirty. Today, Pittsburgh is green with parks, bright with flowers, and sparkling blue with the sky reflecting on the three rivers that converge right where the 65th ATSI Annual Convention and Expo will be held. The gray buildings are now burnished brick, sandblasted back to their original glory, and the only reminder of the steel city are the Super Bowl winners, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In Pittsburgh, rivers are spanned by an assortment of beautiful bridges – thus the theme of our convention: “Bridges to Innovation.”  Where the rivers meet are points of land where people congregate in parks, stadiums, shops, and restaurants to enjoy the views. Within walking distance of our hotel, the Westin Convention Center, is a variety of wonderful things to see and do. Restaurants and cafés line the sidewalk along the hotel’s main street.

On one side of the hotel is the city’s famed cultural and theater district, which includes the opulent Heinz Hall, the historic Byham Theater, and the casual ambience of the Harris and O’Reilly Theaters. The Cabaret Bar features nightly shows that specialize in comedic musical theater.

In the other direction is the famed “Strip District,” which is Pittsburgh’s trendy bar, restaurant, and shopping area. The area has developed into a historic market district with ethnic food grocers, art studios, antique dealers, and chic boutiques where trains once delivered produce by the ton.  The Strip District comes alive during the summer months when street vendors are selling their wares, the open-air farmer’s markets are in full swing, and partygoers sit outside and enjoy a drink.

Throughout the week of the ATSI convention, Pittsburgh will become a haven for artistic expression during the annual Three Rivers Arts Festival.  More than a hundred free performances will be held on four stages throughout the downtown area, all within walking distance of the Westin.  Music of every genre, including big name performers, will provide something for everyone.  Booths will line the streets and fill the parks that present artist’s creations and mouthwatering food.  Juried shows provide expert opinion on the available wares.

The hotel has a great workout room with free weights, aerobic equipment, Nautilus training, an indoor lap pool, and steam, sauna, and massage therapy.  For those who prefer the outdoors, the area provides biking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, in-line skating, sculling, and canoeing.

The hotel has three fabulous restaurants and lounges, including the world famous Fish Market.  There are many great eateries adjacent to the hotel, such as the trendy Sonoma Grill, Seviche, Tonic, and August Henry’s, just to name a few.

The hotel has a gift shop, but shops abound both downtown and in the Strip District. Most are within walking distance or a short cab ride from the hotel.  The adventurous may want to make the South Side of Pittsburgh or trendy Shadyside a shopping destination.

If you are bringing your family, you’ll want to check out:

Sandcastle Water Park, built on an abandoned steel mill, has fourteen twisting, turning waterslides, the world’s largest hot tub, and a lazy river where you can float on a tube for hours. It’s located just minutes from the hotel (9.7 miles from the Westin Conference Center).

The Pittsburgh Zoo is the home of twenty-two threatened or endangered species and the nine-year-old Pittsburgh Aquarium, which boasts an open ocean tank and rain forest and is the home of penguins, stingrays, 4,000 aquatic animals, and thousands of exotic fish. The zoo will host the Dragon Renaissance Festival June 20 and 21, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m, which is free with the general admission (12 miles).

Kennywood Amusement Park, with up-to-the-minute rides today, was a small trolley park in 1898 and still boasts a restaurant and the carousal from that era (15 miles).

The O’Reilly Theater, Pittsburgh’s famed public theater will be featuring the world premier of Harry’s Friendly Service (May 28 through June 28): the steelworkers are on strike and the city of Youngstown is in distress, but Harry’s gas station is crackling with card games and bustling with spirited debate. You will meet Harry, his friends, and his long lost daughter in this evening of relaxed entertainment (0.3 miles).

Museum lovers won’t want to miss the Heinz History Center (0.2 miles) and the Andy Warhol Museum (0.6 miles).

There is much to see and do in this beautiful, restored city, but don’t miss the fabulous sessions that have been prepared for you by some of ATSI’s brightest and best presenters.  This promises to be one of the very best conferences ever.

[From Connection Magazine April 2009]