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Safety, fun paramount for Pittsburgh's Light Up Night

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:15 a.m.
Tribune-Review
Matt Clifford, right, 35, of Polish Hill and Matt Gatto, left, 29, of the South Side, hang the crowning star on a 'holiday tree' sculpture at the Fairmont Hotel Downtown on Thursday, November 15, 2012. The sculpture is made from reclaimed wood from Polish Hill, as well as old metal machine parts accumulated over the year by Clifford, who designed the tree made of all re-used parts. Clifford, who runs Forecast Design/Build collaborated with Clear Story Lighting Design and Creative Services to wire up the towering sculpture, which will glow with globes of alternating light once it is completely assembled. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
Robert Grindlinger, 21, of Uptown, hangs holiday decorations above an overhang at Macy's Downtown on Thursday, November 15, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Brad Charles, 17, of Ohio Township, flips his bike in front of a holiday light display in Market Square Downtown on Thursday, November 15, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

Light Up Night presents a great opportunity to attract customers for new restaurants such as Sal's City Deli.

“It's the busiest night of the year. We are new and are struggling to let people know we are here,” said Kathi Steve, manager of the restaurant, which opened about two weeks ago in the Clark Building at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Seventh Street.

But the Downtown restaurant, which like many others has extended hours Friday night, also will have extra security and will close if problems in the street get out of hand — as they did for a time last year and in 2010.

“It got pretty ugly last year, which is a concern for people,” said Steve, who has worked Downtown for years.

Last year, police arrested four people for fighting during the festival's two days of activities.

In 2010, one man was shot and fights broke out near the end of the first day of festivities. Police arrested at least six people.

Most of the disturbances took place along Liberty Avenue — not at any of the dozens of Light Up Night activities and concerts around Downtown. Event organizers and Pittsburgh police say the arrests were isolated.

“We do not want these few little incidents to be blown out of proportion. We want the public to be safe,” said police spokeswoman Diane Richard.

Arrests at Light Up Night are a fraction of those during the annual St. Patrick's Day parade, when police typically issue dozens of citations for alcohol violations, she said.

Richard said the police presence at this year's events will be about the same as it was last year, when about 100 officers — including K-9 units — were on patrol.

The Wood Street T station, a major transfer depot, is of particular concern, said Jim Ritchie, a Port Authority spokesman. Several arrests were made near there last year.

“This is a large crowd with lots of people coming in from all over for a major event. Many people prefer using public transportation to attend Light Up Night. With events like this, we have as many of our officers out as possible,” he said.

Attendance at Light Up Night has jumped dramatically in just four years, said Ida D'Errico, who is producing the event for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Last year, half a million people attended Light Up Night on Friday, and more than 250,000 visited the next day. In 2008, 100,000 people attended.

Last year's celebration generated $21 million in spending at Downtown hotels, restaurants, bars and stores, D'Errico said.

“Light Up Night was reprogrammed in 2009. It is designed to be the marketing catalyst for downtown Pittsburgh and to get people interested in returning Downtown,” she said.

Rick Faust, manager of Original Oyster House in Market Square, said Light Up Night is one of the busiest nights of the year at the restaurant, which opened in 1870.

“It's great for business. Light Up Night, St. Patrick's Day and Fridays during Lent are our busiest days,” he said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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