About Ben Kamber

Ben Kamber Ben Kamber is a 20-something professional, helping to move the Pittsburgh region forward with his communications work at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its affiliates.
Ben Kamber

The Regional Transportation Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania, a public-private partnership designed to facilitate a broad community discussion about the future of transportation in the region, was launched on Sept. 30  to improve connectivity across the 10-county region, and in doing so, to improve competitiveness, economic vitality and quality of life throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Our region has a unique opportunity to approach our transportation future in a new and dynamic way,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the organization that is providing staff support to the RTA. “Act 89, the state transportation funding package passed in 2013, stabilized our transportation infrastructure maintenance situation. Now it’s time to look toward the future to imagine what is needed to create a better functioning, interconnected multimodal transportation network that benefits the entire region.”

The RTA will be led by a 22-person steering committee that includes a public and private sector representative from each of the 10-counties and the City of Pittsburgh.

The first activity of the RTA will be an “Imagine Transportation” crowdsourcing initiative to identify transportation priorities through community feedback. Through the end of the year, more than 700 regional stakeholder groups – from small nonprofits to large employers, from environmental groups to social service agencies – will be asked to identify their most critical transportation problems and their ideas to address them. These priorities could be as small as “complete the two-mile bike path that’s supposed to run along the riverfront in my downtown” or as big as “build light rail to connect all 10 county-seat communities in the region.”

The RTA steering committee will then review these community responses to develop a picture for what the future of transportation in the region could look like. In its recently approved Long- Range Transportation Plan, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission called for an “ongoing regional discussion” if the region wants to move beyond the status quo transportation system. Groups and organizations wishing to participate in the crowdsourcing exercise should follow the instructions at RegionalTransportationAlliance.org.

“Transportation is fundamental to economic development and vibrant communities,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a member of the RTA steering committee. “As a region, it’s critical that we take a visionary approach toward determining our transportation needs. And as a truly regional effort, the RTA will help facilitate this process and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

“Traveling to Denver, Colorado last year as member of a public-private benchmarking delegation, I saw what was possible when a region had a shared sense of vision to implement transformational transportation projects,” said Brian Heery, RTA co-chair, and president and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc., located in Warrendale, Pa. “Public-private partnership was critical to metro Denver’s transportation successes. And these partnerships will be just as critical as we envision how our own transportation future is defined.”

“Improving connectivity and mobility throughout southwestern Pennsylvania is a crucial issue facing our region,” said Steve Craig, RTA co-chair, and Lawrence County Commissioner. “The launch of the RTA and its crowdsourcing initiative is just the first step in a journey to redefine how the region’s transportation network functions.”

For more information, visit RegionalTransportationAlliance.org.

RTA Steering Committee

Co-Chair: Steve Craig, Commissioner, Lawrence County

Co-Chair: Brian Heery, President & Chief Executive Officer, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc.

Tony Amadio, Commissioner (Chairman), Beaver County

Alfred Ambrosini, Commissioner, Fayette County

Philip Ameris, President & Business Manager, Laborers’ District Council of Western PA

David E. Barensfeld, President & Chief Executive Officer, The Ellwood Group, Inc.

David K. Battaglia, Commissioner (Chairman), Armstrong County

Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive, Allegheny County

Kim Geyer, Assistant to Commissioner McCarrier, Butler County

Dr. Tori Haring-Smith, President, Washington & Jefferson University

John Lewis, President & Chief Executive Officer, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital

Lawrence O. Maggi, Commissioner (Chairman), Washington County

Henry J. Maier, President & Chief Executive Officer, FedEx Ground

Jeffrey Marshall, Chief Clerk and County Administrator, Greene County

Greg McCloskey, Director of Public Works, Westmoreland County

Bill Peduto, Mayor, City of Pittsburgh

Rodney D. Ruddock, Commissioner (Chairman), Indiana County

Art Titus, Chief Operating Officer, Elliott Group

Rodney Wilson, Manager-Business Development, CONSOL Energy

Ben Kamber
Highmark's Unity Tree (aka the Horne's Tree)
Highmark’s Unity Tree (aka the Horne’s Tree)

It seems like every year Light Up Night – Pittsburgh’s official start of the holiday season – gets bigger and better. In fact, this year’s is so big that festival organizer the Pittsburgh Downtown partnership has created a handy (and stylish) website that captures all of the signature events taking place as downtown Pittsburgh is transformed into a winter wonderland. You can check out DowntownPghHolidays.com to help plan your holiday fun, and check out the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s ParkPGH app to find a parking garage with open spaces, but be advised that these downtown streets will be closed to auto traffic during the Nov. 22 kickoff.

Whether you’re a Light Up Night regular or a newcomer to our region who may be attending for the first time, there’s plenty to keep you occupied if you (wisely) decide to venture into downtown Pittsburgh today. Beginning at noon with the lighting of the tree at the City County Building and dedication of the crèche at the U.S. Steel Tower, the festivities continue at select downtown locations through early evening, culminating with the word-famous Zambelli International fireworks display at 9:38 p.m.

The fireworks spectacular, launched from the Andy Warhol Bridge, is visible from many locations throughout the city. But what better way to take them in than with fellow Pittsburghers at the adjacent Roberto Clemente (Sixth Street) Bridge party, where live musical performances begin at 5 p.m. and continue through the fireworks show. You can also check out the great live music offered at three additional performance venues around downtown, including a stage at the newly restored Mellon Square Park.

And if you’re around on Saturday, Nov. 23, why not get some holiday shopping done at the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square. The second-annual world European-inspired market offers a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, with vendors set-up in Alpine-style wooden chalets and more than 150,000 lights and a 30-foot electronic sphere tree that are certain to put you in the holiday spirit. And be sure to bring the kids, as complimentary (with a donation to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank) photos with Santa are available in his spectacular Pittsburgh home. Beginning on Saturday, the market is open every day, except for Thanksgiving, up until Dec. 23.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership estimates that Light Up Night weekend will attract 800,000 people and $21 million in economic impact to downtown Pittsburgh. Be one of them and ring in the holiday season with family and friends from all over the region as part of a fantastic Pittsburgh holiday tradition.

Ben Kamber

From costume parties to haunted hayrides to trick-or-treating, if Halloween is your favorite time of year then Specter Studios in Pittsburgh might have just what you’re looking for. The Sharpsburg-based studio designs, manufactures and distributes an entire line of custom costumes, masks, props and more to serve the needs of even the most discriminating customer.

Mark Marsen, owner of Specter Studios, models his favorite mask on “Our Region’s Business.”

If you’re in need of a Krampus full mask, polar bear rug, satyr pants or a flying monkey costume (and really, who isn’t), Specter has you covered. The company, which employs just seven people, cranks out more than 10,000 items a year – all of which are handmade and shipped from the Pittsburgh headquarters.

And it’s not just Halloween aficionados that have taken a liking to Specter Studios’ creative designs. A slew of Hollywood film and television productions have featured Specter products, including AMC’s Breaking Bad, which featured a foam axe prop in its season four finale.

Most recently (and quite unexpectedly), heightened demand has caused wolf half masks to fly off the shelves, with dozens of orders being made every day. It’s all thanks to the popularity of a viral music video out of Norway called “What Does the Fox Say.” According to company owner Mark Marsen, the increased sales of the fox mask came pretty much out of nowhere, which illustrates the challenges in anticipating the popularity of any particular design.

Marsen and Specter Studios’ Business & Operations Manager Eanna Holten were recently featured on WPXI’s Our Region’s Business. Check out the interview below to learn more about the company and the unusual Pittsburgh connection that one of Marsen’s favorite masks has.

Ben Kamber
(L-R) Justin Horvat, River Vue’s business manager; Bill Vidonic, reporter with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; ImaginePittsburgh’s Nicole Burke

Ever wonder what it might be like to live in a sleek high-rise, in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh’s thriving urban landscape, with Heinz Field, PNC Park and the newly restored Point State Park right at your doorstep?

For Bill Vidonic, a general assignment reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, luxury living will be his reality for the next month. He’s the winner of a month of rent-free luxury living at Millcraft Investments’ “at the Point” downtown residence, River Vue, complete with furnishings by CORT. Vidonic was one of hundreds of people who entered to win by taking the “Find Yourself in Pittsburgh” quiz at ImaginePittsburgh.com, which coincided with the June launch of this web-based “virtual concierge” for Pittsburgh’s plentiful live, work and play opportunities.

We caught up with Vidonic this morning as he received his keys to his attractively furnished one bedroom apartment, which offers sweeping views of Pittsburgh’s iconic Point State Park and confluence of rivers.

The spectacular view from the River Vue apartments

“I’m truly excited about living in Downtown Pittsburgh,” said Vidonic. “After working in town for more than three years, I’m looking forward to exploring the city as a resident, not just as someone who works here and leaves town at the end of the workday. I want to find the hidden gems in town, the sights and the locations that get overlooked much of the time, to take the time to explore the city. And the view from my apartment, overlooking Point State Park, has already made some friends jealous (even though I can’t see the Giant Rubber Duck).”

Throughout the month, Vidonic will be chronicling his experience living downtown via blog posts at ImaginePittsburgh.com. Check back for updates. You can also stay updated by following him on Twitter @BillVidonicTrib.

Interested in the luxury and convenience that downtown living has to offer? Check out the video below and take an insider’s tour of River Vue with Justin Horvat, the complex’s business manager.  And, of course, check out the increasing number of job openings across the region. Pittsburgh’s the perfect place to advance your career and build a life you’ll love.

Ben Kamber

The City of Play Best Games Festival returns to Pittsburgh on Saturday, Aug 31, featuring urban games that turn streets into a playground, fields and parks into game sites and transforms the idea of sports with original games that make Pittsburgh a more playful place.

This isn’t gaming, but analog, run-around-after-the-ball games; as one organizer puts it: “A lot of people play games when they’re younger, but then they get into video games… this is about playing and being playful in real life as an adult.” Says founder Adam Nelson: “All of the games do something to help people integrate with their urban environment, or have some kind of new interaction with other members of the city.”

Last year’s festival featured such new games as Beat the Dark, Super Secret Spies, Nashville and Love at First Site. The $25 ticket also includes an end-of-the-night party featuring new original games from some of the best designers in the world. Participants meet at the Arcade Comedy Theater at 811 Liberty Ave. downtown.

Check out this video from last year’s festival, and learn more at CityOfPlay.org.

The City of Play Festival: The Best New Games in the World from Sprout Fund on Vimeo.

Learn more at CityOfPlay.org.

Ben Kamber

For cartoon enthusiasts everywhere, this Memorial Day weekend is THE time to be in Pittsburgh. For the first time ever, our region is hosting hundreds of cartoonists from across the country for the National Cartoonist Society conference which is rolling into town today. And to dovetail with the conference, the ToonSeum is organizing a comic arts street party, open to the public, called the Pittsburgh Comic Arts Festival on Sunday, May 26.

554194_10151845876973626_349981087_nBilled as a “living pages block party,” the festival will feature visits from iconic comic and cartoon characters such as Popeye, Olive Oil, Betty Boop and Dennis the Menace, as well as vendors, artists and interactive arts activities – all catering to our collective love for the comic arts. Autograph and sketch sessions will also be offered with more than 60 of the nation’s leading comic artists and cartoonists. The street festival runs from noon to 5:00 p.m. on Liberty Ave. between 9th and 10th streets.

Admission to the block party is free and access to the ToonSeum exhibits and the artist sessions is $5.

In addition to the street festival, the ToonSeum is partnering with the August Wilson Center and Bricolage to host a jam-packed series of panel events on Sunday. One of the discussions will focus on “women in cartooning” and will feature Cathy Guisewite of Cathy, Lynn Johnston of For Better or Worse, Terri Libenson of The Pajama Diaries, Hilary Price of Rhymes with Orange and Jen Sorensen of Slowpoke. You can find ticket information and a full schedule of sessions here.

Why is Pittsburgh the perfect place to host this weekend of comic arts festivities? Perhaps it’s because we’re home to the ToonSeum, one of just two museums in America dedicated to cartoon art. Watch the video below to hear Joe Wos, founder and executive director of this downtown cartoon mecca, speak about the museum and why there is “universal appeal” for cartoons throughout the world. And be sure to check out the Pittsburgh Comic Arts Festival this Sunday. It’s sure to be blast for cartoon lovers of all ages.