Climbing the Tower

 

A Profile of David Bear and High Point Pittsburgh

By Matthew Liner

   It stands as a testament to what steel can build. Eight hundred forty-one feet high, preserved in rust, and filled with water, the U.S. Steel Tower was remarkably innovative when it opened.

   David Bear looks back at the tower and sees what the city can be. It’s “built to last forever,” he says proudly.

   Bear is from Pittsburgh. He graduated Princeton in 1970, the same year that construction on the tower was finished. Both rose high in the prime of an American age, just before the fall of steel in the 80’s, and if Bear’s dream can come to fruition, both can push into a brighter future.

   At Carnegie Mellon’s Studio for Creative Inquiry, Bear talks with an assortment of media and construction professionals who support his project. Despite his expressive and defiantly alive eyebrows, his eyes still manage to look simultaneously tired and hurried. And after he explains his efforts and challenges to start development on High Point Pittsburgh, a plaza on top of U.S. Steel Tower, one can understand his disposition.

   Bear’s dream has challenges that make it unlikely to come true. He has been working the past five years developing a project that’s simply ambitious: a two-story plaza, restaurant, and arts space accessed by an elevator located on the outside of the tower. Despite the support he has in the room, he still needs to convince a bureaucracy to make this plan tangible, including potential funders, the building’s management, and current tenants (among them is UPMC, whose logo adorns the top of the tower). Perhaps the almost impossibility of the project is why his wife calls the it his “Oedipus complex.”

  But he retains a contagious enthusiasm. “Pittsburgh has wonderful views,” he says, “but nothing downtown where somebody can look out on the city.”

   Among his supporters at the meeting is a public relations professional named Beverly Morrow-Jones.  Taken with Bear’s vision and the possibility of the project, Morrow-Jones has taken a year to work on garnering support for the project pro bono. “This would be an iconic, first day visit for tourists to Pittsburgh,” She says, “It would be magic if this could happen.” Many people, including the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and VisitPittsburgh, echo her enthusiasm.

   The news of Bear’s plans even has support from the building’s structural engineer, Leslie E Robertson, in New York. Robertson, who also worked on the first World Trade Center, caught wind of the project and was so excited he sent an unsolicited letter supporting High Point Pittsburgh. He not only said the project was feasible (the roof was made to support jets for vertical takeoff), but also “practical and innovative.”

    But the project does not excite everybody. As a public relations professional, Bear shies away from kicking sand toward those who oppose the project. He prefers not to go into a lot of detail when discussing the building’s manager, Tom Harrington of Winthrop Management, who is reluctant to consider the idea.

    Shanae Phillips, an intern from CMU helping with the project, says that the management is the main obstacle. “Basically, his attitude is ‘stop bothering me,’” she says. And when Bear and Harrington finally met earlier this year, Bear says, “He looked at me like I was something stuck on the bottom of his shoe.”

   “I can understand his hesitance,” says Morrow-Jones, “Anything that happens in the building that doesn’t happen every day can disturb things, and the construction alone would bring changes.” Winthrop management did not respond to phone calls for an interview.

   But as for everyone else, Bear’s experiences in PR and as the travel editor for the Post-Gazette help him spread his passion. “He knows this is a great idea,” says Morrow-Jones, “and right now we’re focusing on raising awareness.” His approachability and willingness to talk to anyone about the project could be very beneficial to its progress, and he is launching a donation section for the High Point Pittsburgh website (www.highpointpark.org).  But Bear’s dedication to the project takes its toll personally. “This project is his baby,” says Phillips.

   Next for Bear is continuing to gather support with the help of Morrow-Jones, developing professional feasibility and business studies, and redesigning the virtual tour for the website in an attempt to wow more people. “If people want this to happen, then it can happen,” he says. However, after four years proselytizing for High Point Pittsburgh, he still faces a daunting uphill battle.

   Morrow-Jones says Bear’s drive to finish this project is universal: “It’s a dream, and we don’t like to let go of our dreams.”

   Bear, meanwhile, says he just hopes to have something by 2020, the tower’s 50th anniversary.

Matthew Liner is a graduate student of professional and technical writing at Carnegie Mellon University.