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Pittsburgh tourist dollars continue to flow through festivals, events

Jason Cato
| Thursday, May 5, 2016, 5:18 p.m.
The F2 Powerboat Championships run along the Allegheny River at the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, on Friday, July 4, 2014, on the North Shore.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The F2 Powerboat Championships run along the Allegheny River at the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, on Friday, July 4, 2014, on the North Shore.

Pittsburgh once again plans to pack in a full slate of summer festivals, concerts and other special events, and visitors are expected to pump billions of dollars into the local economy while taking in countless rocket volleys of fireworks.

“It is Pittsburgh,” said Brian Chiera, senior director of marketing and special events for the Pittsburgh Pirates, which will host five Zambelli Fireworks nights and other special promotions this season.

From sporting events and concerts to festivals, performing arts and special museum exhibits, visitors are expected to spend more than $5 billion in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County this year — mostly during the summer, said Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh, the region's convention and tourism agency.

“We estimate there are about six major events each week during the 18 weeks of summer,” Davis said Thursday during VisitPittsburgh's annual Summer Spotlight event, held in the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, Downtown. “Pittsburgh obviously has a uniqueness, an attraction that induces visitation. The community does such a good job at programming. Pure leisure visitation is up dramatically.”

Visitors spent $5.7 billion in 2014 — a $100 million increase from 2013 — and had 11.3 million overnight stays in Allegheny County, according to figures the Pennsylvania Tourism Office released this week. Those overnight stays — which included business travel, conventions and tourism — generated $356 million in state and local taxes, including a 7 percent county hotel tax. A portion of that money accounts for a large part of VisitPittsburgh's annual budget of $11.7 million.

Nearly $5.6 million covers salaries and compensation, including $386,000 for Davis, according to the latest tax filings submitted to the IRS.

The agency's tourism budget, including advertising, is $2.7 million.

“VisitPittsburgh doesn't just let these events go by. We market them outside the region,” said Tinsy Labrie, the agency's vice president of marketing.

Areas that are targeted with marketing campaigns include Erie, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, as well as Washington, D.C., and New York City. A digital billboard in Times Square this year promoted Pittsburgh.

In addition to annual summer events such as the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix and the Three Rivers Regatta, more than 235,000 people are expected to attend the U.S. Open golf tournament at Oakmont Country Club in June. Conventions and sporting events in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center should draw nearly 45,000 visitors. Those include the annual Anthrocon gathering — the “furries,” as they're known — and the Association for Iron & Steel Technology Conference, the Replay FX Arcade & Video Game Festival and major championships for East Coast Volleyball and USA Karate.

Art installation debuts will include works by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the Andy Warhol Museum, “Killer Heels” at The Frick Pittsburgh and a Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood exhibit at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. It will begin a five-year national tour in January.

Major summer concerts include Beyonce, Billy Joel, Guns N' Roses, Justin Bieber and Kenny Chesney.

Kennywood will open this weekend and will hold a Noah's Ark celebration May 25, and July will mark the return of the Heinz Picklesburgh festival — accounting for two of about 200 event days Downtown this year.

“We try to keep things happening,” said Russell Howard, vice president of special events and development with Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Jason Cato is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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