Regatta draws more than 1M over holiday week

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 11:27 p.m.

A popular entertainment slate, a much-watched Pirates home stand and the refurbished Point State Park helped bring the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta some of its biggest crowds in a decade, organizers said on Thursday.

Homeland Security estimates put combined attendance for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at more than 1 million — up from about an estimated 500,000 in 2012, when the nonprofit regatta ran five days instead of three.

“People are happy, and we see it. We see it in all ages,” said Mike Fetchko, president of ISM/USA, the Pittsburgh company that manages the event. “We love the demographic we're seeing. We're seeing a lot of families.”

Timed to coincide with the Fourth of July, the regatta unites a traditional fireworks show with family-oriented concerts, stunt shows, powerboat racing and other attractions in the park and on the North Shore.

Event leaders said they constantly rework the regatta, in its 36th year, to match attendees' interests. This year, that meant adding a Jefferson Starship concert on Wednesday evening along with a pre-Fourth fireworks show atop the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, Downtown.

Fetchko said other favorites included a temporary beach along the Allegheny River; shows by the Marvelous Mutts Dock Dogs, a group of diving canines; and “Extreme Pogo” and BMX bike-stunt programs.

Generally agreeable weather — Thursday's high hit 84 degrees — and the rebuilt $11.9 million Point fountain, which reopened June 7, also helped draw the masses into the city, organizers said. The Pirates' three-game series at PNC Park against the Philadelphia Phillies added to the crush.

Visitors who couldn't land baseball tickets were lured to the Point by the promise of boat races, fireworks and the fountain that circulates more than 800,000 gallons of water.

For Rhonda Blackshear, 40, of Crafton, relaxing on a stone wall in the park — within sight of races on the Allegheny River — was celebration enough.

“I'm born and raised here, so I feel the difference,” she said of the six-year, $39 million park restoration that includes planting areas and lawns. “This is really comfortable.”

Jim Obringer, 66, of Penn, Butler County, said he appreciates all the green space in the regatta's layout, where he and his wife, Kathleen, 52, admired the fountain Thursday afternoon. They skipped the Pirates game.

Was visiting the regatta a fair trade-off?

“Not the way they're playing now,” Jim Obringer said, touting the team's 52-32 season record. “They're doing really well this year.”

Meanwhile, Fetchko was thinking about the 2014 regatta. He said organizers will look to bring more variety in the musical acts and food booths.

EQT is set to be a top sponsor again next year.

Trib Total Media is among the other sponsors.

“We're Pittsburgh guys,” Fetchko said. “We want this always to be a free event.”

Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or

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