In 2001, Riverlife Task Force began to transform perhaps the region’s biggest asset–its rivers. Through the leadership of local environmentalists, urban planners and business owners, more than 80 percent of the 13-mile Three Rivers park loop has become a usable public resource. And like our mighty rivers, future plans continue to flow–from Allegheny Landing to the headwaters of the Ohio and the West End Pedestrian Bridge and more.
As Riverlife’s communications captain, Stephan Bontrager is the go-to guy for information about their upcoming event, Party at the Pier, and all things related to riverfront fun and development. Here’s what he has to say about Riverlife and Pittsburgh’s next posh celebration (unfortunately, home-town fave Michael Keaton is unable to attend due to his current shooting schedule).
The 6th annual Party at the Pier event is coming up on August 28th. Anything different planned for this year?
Party at the Pier was created six years ago to highlight Pittsburgh’s beautiful riverfront parks. We had 350 guests that first year and the event has grown and sold-out each year since, with 900 guests anticipated this year. We’re grateful to our title sponsor PNC for supporting the event since day one.
After months of conversations with decorators, entertainers and our host committee, I’m thrilled to see this year’s Posh Picnic theme come to life. We mean “posh” in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, like your kooky rich great-aunt who summers in the Hamptons with her dogs and steamer trunk full of vintage gowns. We’ve described the dress code as “Great Gatsby meets Wes Anderson” and since our guests always knock it out of the park with what they choose to wear to the party, I can’t wait to see what they come up with this year. Plus with boat rides, amazing food and live music at the event, you have all the makings for an epic night out.
Will your new president and CEO, Vivien Li, the phenom from Boston, be there?
Vivien Li begins as Riverlife’s new president and CEO on October 1st, but she’ll be at Party at the Pier, and I’m so excited for people to meet her. She leaves behind a legacy in Boston–her announced departure for Pittsburgh was front-page news on The Boston Globe, above the fold! She is credited with being the driving force for turning around the Boston Harbor from parking lots to the beautiful, bustling destination it is today. She has told me her first steps when she arrives in Pittsburgh will be to listen and learn more about Riverlife’s current projects and what’s on the horizon. With so much riverfront development happening in the Strip District and our North Shore riverbank restoration study, there will be a lot of ground to cover.
What are Riverlife’s biggest challenges?
Pittsburgh’s riverfronts are a patchwork quilt of different parcels and owners. Most of the work Riverlife has been involved in so far has been on public property, and the remaining gaps in the park system are mostly on private property. As always, it’s so important to form public-private partnerships to get everyone to come to the table to build these riverfront assets, and fortunately we’re in a new age where land owners and developers really see the benefit of building public trails, playgrounds, boat launches and other amenities into their new developments.
What were the highlights for the past year and what does the future hold?
We have many projects moving in the Strip, on the Mon Wharf and in the South Side, but I would say one of the most satisfying for our staff was a project we call “#tbd.” Riverlife partnered with AIA Pittsburgh and numerous others to mount a conversation around the urban void underneath the Fort Duquesne Bridge along the Allegheny River. The result was a beautiful new 750-foot mural by artist Kim Beck painted by volunteers and a gallery of ideas by young architects for other riverfront voids around the city. It was a beautiful community effort that made a big visual impact to improve a glaring gap in the downtown riverfront park system.
Pittsburgh is your adopted hometown. What makes this city great for newcomers? What made you want to stay?
I moved to Pittsburgh from Denver almost 14 years ago for an internship, thinking I’d only be in the ‘Burgh for a year. But then Pittsburgh sunk its claws in me and never let go, and I’m hooked. I love how you can really make a difference in this town if you have a good idea and enough drive to make it happen–I see people that I love and respect doing that every single day here with astonishing results.
What’s your favorite Pittsburgh river activity or restaurant?
We need more restaurants on the river, period! There’s nothing like dining near the water and I hope more new developments include restaurants that open up to the riverfront. I would have to say my favorite river activity is kayaking on the rivers downtown. You haven’t seen this city if you haven’t seen it from the water.