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City Neighborhoods
Sparkle Season gets snuffed out

City adds new slogan, new twists to old holiday traditions

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It's official -- you won't have Sparkle Season to kick around anymore.

"I'm the woman who killed Sparkle Season," quipped Mariann Geyer, executive director of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. "It's been retired."

But don't worry, the partnership still plans extensive holiday activities aimed at persuading people to leave the malls and come Downtown to shop, dine, skate or just hang out this holiday season, Nov. 22 to Jan. 1.

The partnership, a group of Downtown merchants, building owners and residents, is joining the city parking authority once again to offer free parking for people who enter authority garages weekdays at 4 p.m. or afterward and all day on weekends. The free parking starts with Light Up Night, which is set for Nov. 22.

There also will be valet parking at Lazarus department store, free horse-drawn carriage rides on Saturdays in December, ice skating at the PPG Place rink, new lighting on the Roberto Clemente Bridge and special holiday lighting and banners in Market Square and along Fifth Avenue and Wood Street.

After eight years it was time to replace Sparkle Season and its spin-off slogan, "Downtown Pittsburgh Sparkles," Geyer said.

The name Sparkle Season brought criticism from some people as an overly commercial attempt by merchants to erase religious meaning from the Christmas holiday.

The partnership's new slogan is somewhat more prosaic: "Downtown Pittsburgh, A Holiday Tradition With a New Twist."

Geyer said merchants and property owners were asked how they wanted Downtown to be seen by the public and what the best way was to market it.

"We wanted to dress up Downtown so it's a whole package of experiences -- carolers, ice skating, horse-drawn carriages, hot apple cider," Geyer said. "I think 'Sparkle' served Downtown well, but we felt it was time for a change."

Details won't be released until a news conference Nov. 7, but on three successive Thursday nights in December, there will be special themes for Downtown shopping: Dec. 5 is being called "Girls' Night Out," to attract women; Dec. 12 is "The Young and the Restless," intended to appeal to younger people; and Dec. 19 is "Men Will Be Men."

"Come Downtown. Don't do the 'mall crawl' or the 'mall stall'," added Ralph Horgan, director of the Public Parking Authority of Pittsburgh.

He said that Mayor Tom Murphy insisted that free Downtown parking be made available in authority garages during the 2001 holiday shopping season, and it was a big factor in drawing shoppers Downtown.

"We know how important free parking was to Downtown retailers last year," said Geyer. "It made the shopping season for many of them."

But the authority lost about $300,000 because it didn't collect the usual $3 for parking beginning at 4 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. Horgan said he didn't see how the free parking could be offered again until Chrysler and Jeep dealers agreed to underwrite $100,000 of the lost revenue. The dealers also are providing $50,000 for radio and TV ads touting Downtown for holiday shopping.

Horgan said the parking authority, which has a $27 million budget, will offset the loss of revenue by saving $500,000 through refinancing borrowed money at lower interest rates.

Besides the free-parking initiative, Geyer said, other steps are being taken to make parking less of a hassle. People coming into the Golden Triangle can call the Downtown Partnership 24 hours ahead of time and a spot in an authority garage will be reserved for them, she said.

Also, Horgan said, a motorist can pull his car up on the Fifth Avenue side of Lazarus and have a valet park the car in the Lazarus garage. Regular parking fees will be charged, but there is no charge for the valet service, he said.

Duquesne Light Co. is providing 5-foot-wide, lighted "white stars" that will hang on light poles along Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, along with large red banners to hang in Market Square, Geyer said.

Duquesne Light is also paying for lights now being installed on the Clemente Bridge -- the former Sixth Street Bridge. The lights will be turned on Nov. 21, one night before Light Up Night.

The skating rink at PPG Place will open Nov. 22.

Geyer is also hoping people will be attracted by the free carriage rides that will be offered Saturdays in December.

Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.

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