Thanks to all who have responded - some great suggestions.
I have considered the black paint idea, but the wife would like a warmer, more finished look. I did some searching on the web last night and found some very nice looking suspended ceilings - a lot betther than I thought!
I especially like the exposed beam/ceiling tile idea. I may take a look at that more closely. While I do not want to relocate plumbing & electric, I am not overly concerned with ceiling height.