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Event awaits maiden voyage in Strip District

| Friday, Aug. 6, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

The city's second regatta of the summer starts today in the Strip District and promises powerboat racing on the Allegheny River this weekend.

Pittsburgh's Summer Regatta Festival takes place near The Boardwalk at 1501 Smallman St. -- where speedboat fans can watch test-runs and races -- and on three blocks of Smallman Street.

Smallman Street has been closed between the 1300 and 1500 blocks to accommodate food vendors and amusement rides. City police will direct traffic there and on the 16th Street Bridge during the event.

Hours are 11 a.m. today to 2 a.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Admission to The Boardwalk for the regatta is $10 a person each day. Activities on the river can be seen for free from nearby areas.

Promoter Joe Martelli created the festival to take place on the city's traditional regatta weekend after the producer of the Three Rivers Regatta moved that event to coincide with the city's Fourth of July celebration. Martelli's company, Back Room Productions, scrambled to coordinate the second event in two months' time.

"To put this thing together in such a short amount of time, I was jumping through hoops. It's an enormous undertaking. We can't be more thankful to the city," Martelli said as opening day approached. "We're looking forward to doing this in Pittsburgh every year."

Diane Greco, vice president of U.S. Events and Marketing, which produced the regatta for Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta Inc., said the city should be able to support two such events.

"It's wonderful to have any event come into the city and especially one that focuses on our rivers," Greco said.

She said although city officials did not count visitors, they visually estimated this year's July 4th weekend celebration as "one of the largest ever."

Rich DePaulis, owner of General Talent Associates in Monroeville, briefly worked with Martelli on a plan to hold a regatta in Beaver County this summer. The event was postponed until next year.

DePaulis regularly books bands to perform at The Boardwalk and other venues. He said the Sports Rock bar on Smallman Street is "looking forward to overflow action from the carnival" out front. DePaulis said he admires Martelli's persistence in organizing the last-minute event to showcase speedboat races.

"We'll see how successful it is, how well organized," DePaulis said. "We're hoping he's able to pull it off. He put a whole lot of time, he put his heart and soul, into this thing."

Competitive boat races couldn't be rescheduled for the July festival, but Martelli lined up more than 30 sponsors to keep the boat races in Pittsburgh this month.

"If this works out the way we think it will, we would probably want to come back here this same weekend," said Sam Winer, whose APR Events Group, of New Martinsville, W.Va., has brought Formula II and Formula III power-boat races to the city for the past seven years.

Winer said Pittsburgh is a prominent race among the eight races that he schedules. This will be the first year that boats are launched along the south shore of the Allegheny River, instead of the North Shore launch used when races were viewed from Point State Park in Downtown.

"We're excited about the prospects," Winer said. "The new course has some challenges."

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