Written by Daliah Singer, 5280 Magazine
Pittsburgh was a city in decline at the end of the 20th century. The heart of downtown had become the Steel City’s de facto red-light district. Strip joints and massage parlors affixed themselves to every street corner; prostitutes paced the sidewalks. Reputable businesses shuttered. Residents were leaving the metropolis in droves: More than 300,000 people packed up and moved out between 1950 and 1990.
Amidst downtown’s wreckage was the turn-of-the-century Fulton Building, a former office tower with a white marble lobby and a distinctive nine-story archway. Local developers weren’t interested in the vacant property. They didn’t see how it—or the area—could ever be resurrected. “It was an embarrassment,” says then Mayor Tom Murphy of the all-but-abandoned city center. “Developers in Pittsburgh were risk averse.” But where they saw potential for failure, Denver’s Sage Hospitality, which owns and operates hotels, saw opportunity. With the support of Murphy and other city officials—plus some public financing—Sage redeveloped the Fulton into the Renaissance Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel, a luxury accommodation on the banks of the Allegheny River, in 2001.