The ho-hum sameness of airports is a common complaint of frequent travelers. But the new Welcome Center at Pittsburgh International Airport that opened yesterday was designed to feel like Pittsburgh, says Craig Davis, president and CEO of Allegheny County’s tourism promotion agency VisitPittsburgh.

“Usually, welcome centers are utility spaces, but ours is an ad for Pittsburgh and the region: it’s beautiful, it’s well-constructed. We have trained service people there to provide [visitors] with the information they need to start their trip outright,” he says.

Centrally located in the landside terminal, the welcome center is expected to greet more than 20,000 people this year. The former 22-year-old center, tucked under the escalators that lead to the ticket counters, still managed to assist 10,000 people, despite being rather hard to find. VisitPittsburgh wanted the new location to be a central meeting point and to set the right tone for visitors.

“It’s your first official welcome to Pittsburgh,” says Davis. “And it tells the Pittsburgh story very well.”

An 80-inch LED high-definition monitor displays videos of the region. Other backlit signage will reflect changing attractions and programming. Hundreds of brochures offer suggestions for lodging, transportation, restaurants and entertainment.

VisitPittsburgh and the Allegheny County Airport Authority collaborated for a year to create  the $170,000 center. It’s a smart investment in the city’s reputation, says Davis.

“Somebody described it to me as a new kind of Kaufmann’s clock. If you don’t know where to meet, you can meet at our visitors’ center.”

In keeping with VisitPittsburgh’s emphasis on Pittsburgh-true, local contractors and craftsmen were hired. Paula Lysy Design planned the space. Steve Chiang was the project’s architect and Shannon Construction was the contractor; ED3 Consultants were responsible for electrical design and Kirby Electric for installation. John Ross contributed art and design, Custom Audio Works provided AV installation, and Allegheny Millwork created the center’s cabinetry.

Margaret J Krauss

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.