EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta serves as boost to city's economy
Organizers expect the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta to generate as much as $30 million for local businesses, making it a powerful economic engine among Western Pennsylvania's signature annual events, but it has challenges to remain a top draw.
The three-day affair — billed as the nation's largest inland regatta — shrank after a theft scandal and public funding largely dried up, forcing organizers to lean heavily on private donors to underwrite powerboat races, music and a range of exhibitions and activities in and around Point State Park.
“Most people think we're flush with cash, but we're a nonprofit that operates on pretty thin margins,” regatta board Chairman John Bonassi said.
Bonassi called it “remarkable” that the event remains as large as it does.
In years past, when the regatta was held over as many as 10 days, it secured up to $500,000 annually in state money. Last year, state aid dwindled to $50,000. This year, the regatta won't receive money from Harrisburg for the first time in memory, Bonassi said.
Allegheny County contributed a $50,000 grant that will pay for fencing, signs and security — the only public money for the event.
“We'd be happy to accept funds from the state, but they have gone through some belt-tightening, and we understand that,” Bonassi said.
He'd like for the regatta to partner with the Three Rivers Arts Festival and First Night to make a joint push for state money to support all three events.
“We're open to any partnership that could result in additional funding,” said Shaunda Miles of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a spokeswoman for the latter events.
The regatta costs $700,000 to $1 million each year, Bonassi said. Major donors this year include Downtown energy company EQT Corp., Rivers Casino on the North Shore, the Downtown-based Colcom Foundation and Trib Total Media.
“We face three challenges virtually every year: How do we keep the event absolutely safe and secure, how do we keep it free, and how do we attract new sponsors to keep it safe and free?” Bonassi said.
The regatta is no stranger to financial trouble.
After the 1997 event, the regatta had a $750,000 deficit and scandal.
Former regatta staffer Ida D'Errico blew the whistle on founder Eugene F. Connelly for misusing more than $200,000 in regatta money. Connelly pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in federal prison. He died in 2009.
Regatta board members hired businessman Jim Roddey, who later became the first Allegheny County executive, to overhaul the event.
“It was a real mess. Somehow, we managed to save it and get it back on track,” Roddey said. “The difference today is that it's solvent, and nobody is stealing money.”
But four years later, with D'Errico as executive director, the regatta nearly went under again when several major sponsors pulled their support months before the event. Corporate donations and state funding kept it afloat.
The regatta, traditionally held in August, moved to the first week of July in 2004 so it could take over the cash-strapped city's annual fireworks display. The state declared Pittsburgh financially distressed in December 2003.
Roddey said he believes the scheduling change “really kept the regatta viable.”
Although it used to draw 1.5 million people and generated an estimated $60 million for the local economy when spread over up to 10 days, Roddey said, “These are different times. I do think as long as you can draw 400,000 to 600,000 people, you will continue to attract sponsors.”
D'Errico, no longer associated with the event, agreed.
“It's always a challenge to raise funds, but the regatta is so unique to our region. It's certainly evolved and changed a bit, but that's OK. It keeps the event fresh,” D'Errico said.
Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Waivers granted for Garden Theater block development
- Baldwin students take in film on Nobel Peace Prize winner’s activism for girls, education
- Founder of Operation Safety Net in Pittsburgh named one of CNN’s 2015 Top 10 Heroes
- Suit seeks $5M from McKeesport authority
- Pittsburgh International Airport to focus on attracting new airlines, increase facility’s usage
- Pittsburgh zoo receives $9M gift — largest ever — from Mellon Foundation
- Wilkinsburg minister raided for drugs and guns, charged with 18 felonies
- Canon-McMillan drops U.S. Postal Service from condemnation action
- Newsmaker: Sanford Asher
- Trial scheduled in beating of black man at T station
- Siblings sue over gas rights in Jefferson Hills land parcel