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Region game for $60 million windfall from trio of events

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Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

Jared Gross typically feels blue around this time of year, when the dead of winter starts closing in.

This year, Gross, 16, of Marshall has a welcome diversion. His beloved Steelers play the New York Jets on Sunday in Pittsburgh's fifth AFC Championship game in 10 years. A Steelers win in Heinz Field would send the team to the Super Bowl in Dallas and carry Gross into February and past the heart of winter.

"I'm definitely excited about the championship game," said Gross, who will attend along with his parents, Rick and Gail. "This is going to be great."

Gross wasn't the only person contemplating his good fortune this week.

Western Pennsylvania hotels, restaurants, retailers and bars expect to cash in on the third major nationally televised sporting event on the North Shore this month.

Starting with the National Hockey League's Winter Classic on New Year's Day, the region has benefited from the games in a big way, according to Craig Davis, vice president of marketing for the tourism agency VisitPittsburgh. Businesses not only make money, he said, but the area benefits from national exposure.

"The wonderful thing about a game like this is that it's a gift, because January is by far our slowest month of the year, and we would really have nothing to replace this kind of event," Davis said. "When this is all said and done, I think we will have $60 million of economic impact from sporting events this January."

VisitPittsburgh estimated Saturday's playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens generated about $19.2. The Winter Classic brought in about $15 million.

Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking Corp., which owns North Shore lots around Heinz Field and PNC Park, said the three extra games translate into money Alco and the city normally wouldn't have. Stabile said the company controls about 8,000 parking spaces around Heinz Field.

"The parking tax alone is going to be in the range of $100,000," Stabile said. "It's a shot in the arm for everyone here on the North Side, as well as Downtown. We're jumping for joy."

People are booking hotel rooms at premium prices. Downtown rates range from $278 to $419 per night, according to hotel websites.

Robert Lepore, general manager of the 715-room Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, formerly the Hilton, said he expects the hotel to fill before the weekend.

"The reservation lines are certainly lit up," he said. "We do expect, really, you'll see a tremendous amount of business. We expect the rooms to go very fast. I think this will be a big boost for the city."

In addition to Jets and out-of-town Steelers fans headed for the game, Lepore said he anticipates guests who will come to support their favorite team and experience home-field hype.

Bob Page, director of sales and marketing for the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown, said the hotel always sells out during championship games. This year, the National Football League designated the hotel as its headquarters.

"They started bringing staff in as early as today," Page said. "For us, the game enhances the entire week."

It's enhancing spirits across Steeler Nation.

Astria Suparak, director of Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, said the gallery's exhibit "Whatever it Takes: Steelers Fan Collections, Rituals and Obsessions" experienced attendance spikes in the past few weeks.

The exhibit pays tribute to what Suparak calls "Steelers culture." Research conducted for the project uncovered at least 1,800 Steelers bars and fan clubs across the globe. Suparak said Steeler Nation extends to every state, every Canadian province and 27 countries around the world.

"The visitors we've had during the week have definitely been excited about the game," Suparak said. "People are definitely talking about the playoffs and are hoping, of course, for another Super Bowl win."

The exhibit is scheduled to end Jan. 30, but Suparak said it would be extended into early February if the Black-and-Gold head to Dallas.

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