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Mayor Faces Tough Questions, Criticism At Groundbreaking Ceremony

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- "We've rebuilt downtown. We've recreated a neighborhood here, and I'm just really pleased and excited to be part of that," said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Even while toting his successes -- this time at the groundbreaking for the 197-room Gardens Hotel in Market Square -- the mayor is dogged by the same question: where have you been?

"I don't really have any response. I'm here, I'm in town, I'm at work, and I continue to make projects like this happen," said Mayor Ravenstahl.

Throughout his time office, the Mayor's absence at high-profiled events has been an issue.

Most recently, at the police academy graduation and then at the fire academy graduation -- where his attendance would be routine -- the mayor was a no-show.

Even those in his administration privately grouse that he comes to his office downtown infrequently these days. Still, the Mayor maintains he's on the job and the business of the city is getting done.

"Detractors will always be there," said Mayor Ravenstahl. "But from my perspective, even since I've announced that I'm not running for re-election, things have continued to function, continued to move."

On Wednesday, the Mayor toted a new vibrancy in the city, which the development of downtown reflects, saying he should be judged on the results of his tenure even if his critics say he's been absent for much of it.

"It's part of the job, you get criticized all the time," Mayor Ravenstahl said. "From my perspective, Pittsburgh is doing great."

He also had some harsh words for critics of using public subsidies for downtown development.

The Gardens at Market Square - a hotel, office and retail complex - is slated to cost $100 million.

Of that, the public will pony up about $9 million in tax breaks and other direct aid. At the groundbreaking, the Mayor took on the critics of that aid.

"There's a half-assed article in the paper today by the Tribune Review about public money and should you use it," said Mayor Ravenstahl. "You should, because projects like this are good."

we have a shared vision and use public partnerships to make things happen."

The Trib questioned subsidies given to Lucas Piatt and the Piatt family for The Gardens and other projects throughout downtown.

The Piatt's renovated the Lazarus department store, inheriting $9 million in tax breaks to transform it into a new state office building and condos -- called Piatt Place.

Then, the Piatt's got more than $13 million in public help to turn the vacant C.G. Murphy's into stores, offices and the new YMCA.

While there was no public money spent to renovate the old state office building into apartments, critics called the state's sale price of $4.6 million a sweetheart deal.

But Mayor Ravenstahl said the public has benefited from each project.

"Folks will criticize the public's involvement in these projects. I couldn't disagree more," he said. "There's a role for government to play. And you've see the role that we've played and you've seen the success of it."

Despite his attendance record, the Mayor say the proof is in the pudding -- the transformation of downtown, even if the taxpayer picked up a good bit of the tab.

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