On an unseasonably cool spring day, the 10th graders of the Obama Academy Steel Drum Band played Under the Sea and other steel drum faves to an audience that included Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Chief of Staff to Mayor Peduto Kevin Acklin and Jeremy Waldrup of the PDP.

The occasion was the reopening of the Plaza at EQT Plaza, which closed in the fall for renovation.

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Obama Academy Steel Drum Band. Photo courtesy Marc Soracco, www.soraccophoto.com.

“We wanted to make sure to have it open in time for the summer season—and here we are, in time for summer and Memorial Day,” says Andy Wisniewski, vice president of Highwoods Properties, which also owns PPG Place. “We’re excited to deliver this space back to not just our office customers, but to the visitors of downtown, all the city residents and everyone that’s able to take advantage of the plaza.”

The refurbishment of the courtyard, which acts as the roof of the parking garage, opened up more than 2,000 square feet of space. The space now totals more than 7,500 square feet and features new ergonomic seating, dozens of tables, aluminum bike racks and large planters with trees and flowers to green the space.

Plus, “to honor Pittsburgh’s steel heritage” Highwoods commissioned Mendel Steel in Bethel Park to build two large steel arbors that flank the plaza.

Highwoods wanted to retain some aspects of the original plaza, so they updated the gas lamps that light the plaza. “At night, with the gas lights lit up, it’s really stunning,” says Wisniewski.

“This is absolutely beautiful,” says Fitzgerald. “I hope you got a good price on gas for those gas lamps,” he quipped in a reference to the building’s namesake tenant, EQT, the natural gas producer.

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Penelope Jencks’ sculptures, plus new bike racks. Photo courtesy LG.

Also refurbished were the three life-size sculptures originally installed back in 1998. Wisniewski noted these bronze sculptures honor both the business community and the music community that are such a vibrant part of the Cultural District.

Highwoods Properties acquired the EQT Plaza in 2012 for $91 million. “Replacing the plaza was one of the planned improvements when we purchased this building,” he says. Highwoods invested $2 million on the project. Design Alliance was the architect and P.J. Dick was the contractor.

“The public spaces they have invested in are two world-class premiere spaces here in our downtown community, which is now converting to become a neighborhood,” says Acklin. “It’s the fastest growing residential neighborhood in the city.”

This updated plaza adds a crucial element of a healthy cityscape—a place to slow down and enjoy the outside. From the Plaza at EQT Plaza, there is a view over to Katz Plaza, which is framed by dozens of linden trees and houses a 25-foot bronze fountain and the well-known eye sculptures. Visitors to the plaza at EQT now see several blocks of greenery in the middle of the Cultural District.

“These are the kind of projects and quality of life amenities that really make our city what it is—a really special place,” says Fitzgerald.

“This administration—along with our partners in the County and the new administration in the state—for the first time in 50 years are charged with managing growth,” says Acklin. “When we have a world-class institution like Highwoods coming here making those investments to capture that growth, we are always mindful and thankful for that.”

The Plaza entrance is on Liberty across from PNC Tower, and near both the Benedum and Heinz Hall. The Plaza is just a few blocks from a few new downtown options for good take-out food: the Market Street Grocery and TÄKŌ restaurant.