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Families flock to Downtown Pittsburgh for annual Light Up Night festivities

| Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 10:34 p.m.

They filtered into the city, slowly at first, late on Friday afternoon, some pushing strollers, others holding hands and huddling under umbrellas.

They were determined to celebrate Pittsburgh's annual Light Up Night.

Before nightfall, the rain stopped, the crowds swelled and Pittsburgh did not disappoint, putting on a show that began with the lighting of eight Christmas trees across Downtown and ending with a fireworks spectacular.

The holiday kickoff got under way early in the afternoon at the courthouse, where Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald lit LED lights installed at the top of the 325-foot tower. A crowd gathered at the corner of Grant Street and Forbes Avenue at noon to watch the tower shine red and green for the first time in its 125-year history.

Later in the afternoon, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hit the switch on the city's Christmas tree outside the City-County Building. The 45-foot-tall, 6,000-pound Colorado spruce was donated by the North Side's New Life Family Worship Center.

Several hundred people attended the event featuring The Salvation Army Brass and Bell Ringers Ensemble and the Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 Concert Choir.

Ravenstahl, who is leaving office in January, encouraged people to take advantage of the city's two-day holiday celebration.

“It's a safe environment. It's a wonderful opportunity for shoppers, not just at our big stores but our smaller shops and boutiques,” he said.

Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said Light Up Night, now in its 53rd year, has become a tradition that draws families from across the region. Some 800,000 attended the two-day event last year, and the group hoped to draw a similar number this year.

“Folks have been bringing their kids here for generations. Pittsburgh loves the holidays. It's Christmas crazy,” Waldrup said.

Downtown merchants were upbeat as crowds began to build.

“This is our busiest weekend of the year. It's a nice, family-oriented event. I just love seeing this whole transformation of the city,” said Kimberly Coppola as shoppers streamed in and out of Serendipity, her accessory shop just off Market Square.

“It's good. It brings people Downtown. They see what's here and some come back,” said Jeff Horvath as he worked the cash register at Heinz Healey's men's shop on Fifth Avenue.

Linda and Gary Reed of Pine, who were back for their third Light Up Night, planned to spend the night in the city and meet their son and his friends, who were traveling from Waynesburg College. The crowds, the music, the shops, the lights and the fireworks that cap the evening are all part of the draw.

“We love it,” said Linda Reed, as she made her way through Fifth Avenue Place.

Indeed, the mood was festive throughout the city as musicians performed on outdoor stages from Mellon Square to the Clemente Bridge. At Market Square, busy restaurants ringed an outdoor holiday market ready to open for business on Saturday morning, while skaters swirled across the holiday rink that surrounds the Christmas tree at PPG Place.

Other attractions on Saturday include the fourth annual Trib Total Media Candlelight Horse-drawn Carriage Parade, which begins at 6 p.m. on Liberty Avenue.

Inside the Wintergarden at PPG Place, Tyler McKee, 5, of Penn Hills stood awestruck as model trains circled a giant Christmas tree surrounded by a virtual city of gingerbread houses.

“Look, look, Dad. Here it comes,” he said, grabbing his father, Pete McKee, by the hand, as a train made its way out of a tunnel.

“He's really excited about Christmas,” McKee said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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