After spending more than a year in what was essentially shutdown mode, Pittsburgh is getting its groove back.
Thanks to rising vaccination rates, the statewide pandemic-related disaster emergency declaration ended last month, helping the city spring back to life.
Downtown Pittsburgh has already hosted the Three Rivers Arts Festival; the Juneteenth celebration and Black Music Festival; Independence Day festivities at Point State Park; and the debut of the Allegheny Overlook stage that recently hosted national musical act Fitz & the Tantrums.
Market Square has returned to hosting weekly farmers markets and weekend night markets. Just a short walk over the Clemente Bridge, PNC Park is open to full capacity on the North Shore.
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Civic Light Opera will not have a regular summer season this year but did stage outdoor performances of “The Wizard of Oz” at Heinz Field. The Steelers are about to open training camp at the stadium, with a dozen practices open to the public.
“We’re certainly happy to see more and more people on the streets, going to Pirate games, dining at restaurants, using the riverfront trails,” said Jeremy Waldrup, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
The mood is also happier at VisitPittsburgh, the city tourism organization charged with luring convention, trade show and leisure travel business to the region. Spokesperson Shannon Wolfgang said the agency was encouraged by the June uptick in Downtown hotel occupancy rates.
The week of June 6-12, occupancy was 51.4 percent; for the week of June 13-19, the rate jumped to 54.6 percent; and the rate for the week of June 20-26 was 56.4 percent.
The occupancy rate for June 20-26 was far below the 74 percent for the same week in pre-pandemic 2019. But Wolfgang remains encouraged.
“We’re already starting to see the effects of leisure travel here and I think we’ll continue to see incremental increases because of all of the entertainment events and festivals we have,” she said.
Running June 4-13 at Point State Park, the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival featured over 150 artists and various musical performances. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)
One of the largest and most famous of those events is Picklesburgh, which twice was voted the nation’s top specialty food festival in USA Today polls in 2019 and 2020. This year’s celebration of all things pickle-related (including a pickle juice drinking contest) will occur Aug. 20-22 on the Andy Warhol Bridge.
Since its debut in 2015, Picklesburgh has grown in both size and crowds, attracting thousands of people to Downtown. Waldrup isn’t certain what to expect when it comes to attendance this year.
“I wish I could read the tea leaves,” he said. “But we’re planning for pre-pandemic crowds at Picklesburgh and we are expanding its footprint (along Fort Duquesne Boulevard) to accommodate people. We’ll see what happens.”
Entertainment options in the city will continue to increase as the summer progresses.
Stage AE on the North Shore will resume concerts in August. PPG Paints Arena, which hasn’t hosted a live event since the Penguins season ended, will welcome the WWE Supershow on July 23 and a James Taylor and Jackson Browne concert on Aug. 3.
The Pittsburgh Symphony will resume live performances at Heinz Hall in September. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust slowly will ramp up its schedule of concerts and shows at the Benedum Center this fall.
Pittsburgh’s reawakening remains an ongoing process, but those closest to the situation are optimistic as the pandemic continues to wind down.
“There’s still work to be done,” Waldrup said. “But overall, I’d say we’re satisfied with where we are.”