by Chris Potter
In a press conference that -- blessedly -- had fewer fish puns than the headline of this blog post, mayor-elect Bill Peduto and Wholey's President Jim Wholey called upon Pittsburghers to find a new home for the iconic Wholey Smiling Fish.
The Fish, which has winkingly presided over the Strip District for a quarter-century, must leave its home on the side of the Federal Cold Storage building: The structure is being converted into apartments. But "As we look to the new, we don't want to throw out the old," Peduto told reporters gathered in front of Wholey's retail location in the Strip District this morning.
Peduto and the Wholey family are asking residents to help find a new location for the 100-foot-by-60-foot sign. Between now and Jan. 31, he and the Wholeys will be soliciting suggestions on new locations for the sign. Suggestions can be made via e-mail at email@example.com or using the Twitter hashtag #SmilingFish. Wholey customers can also offer locations using a suggestion box at Wholey's itself.
The new site for the sign must be within city limits, have the property owner's permission, and conform with zoning regulations. Peduto pledged that if a suitable location and willing owner could be found, the city would "work with you on the zoning issue." (Which, if nothing else, would probably provide a more fun ongoing news story than the last debate over electronic signage in town).
As of 10:40 this morning, I already spotted one recommendation on Twitter: replacing the badly dilapidated Alcoa sign on Mt. Washington. Asked for his preferred location, Peduto intimated that the nearby Heinz History Center had purchased a structure at 1221 Penn Ave. -- just a few blocks from the sign's current location -- for use as a conservation center. But he was wary of mentioning the site by name, saying he didn't want to "get [History Center head] Andy Masich mad at me."
According to Peduto and Jim Wholey, the Wholey sign was a 1989 Christmas gift from employees to Robert Wholey Sr., after he traveled to Hong Kong and been impressed by the site of lit-up animal signs atop buildings there. A temporary sign, which blew off the building, was replaced by the Sargent Electric Company.
The fish sign, said Wholey, "is a part of Pittsburgh, and we owe it to Pittsburgh to let [residents] decide where it's going to go."
Wholey said that his firm would pay the cost of lighting and maintaining the sign, whose cost he estimated at $50,000. And when a new site is found for it, he said, "We'll have a big lobster party."