The money pit at Pitt

I've been waiting for the letters to the editor to start appearing in response to the Post-Gazette's investigation of the cost of building Pitt's Petersen Event Center. (Part Two of the report is here. The response of the University is reported here (reporting comments by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg to the University Senate) and here (public relations fluff from the university telling the P-G to send its questions to Harrisburg--any overruns weren't the University's fault).

I'm in no position to question either the P-G investigation or Pitt's response that the investigation asked misleading questions and ended up with misleading conclusions. What is interesting to me is the public reaction--the letters.

Some of the letters seem to get the point that the P-G was trying to make. This was an expensive project built largely with public money. As fabulous as the resulting building has turned out to be (so I'm told), it's reasonable to ask whether the public got it's money's worth. It's also reasonable to ask whether the Legislature went in with its eyes open--or whether Pitt officials low-balled Harrisburg in order to get the Legislature's buy-in, then ramped up the scale of the project when it was too late for anyone to pull out.

Some of the letters, however, reflect the attitude that is the bete-noire of this blog: How dare anyone criticize Pittsburgh, when all this city is trying to do is improve itself? Why not just focus on the good stuff (the great Petersen arena)? And isn't it the Post-Gazette's job to play up the good things about the region, not to dwell on the negative?

HELP! Pittsburgh can never move forward as a city until it stops being so thin-skinned. Be proud of the city, the region, its people, its culture, its history, and its future. But be not afraid of justified criticism. "I can take it" is a mark of a region's maturity. The P-G--and all of the City's journalists--should continue to take on the City's major institutions.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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