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City to celebrate its bicentennial with events throughout year

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photo by Dominique Hildebrand
The statue of the late mayor Richard Caligiuri overlooks the Pittsburgh
Bicentennial banners at the Grant Street entrance to the City County Building

This year marks a major milestone for the city of Pittsburgh: the bicentennial its incorporation as a city. To celebrate, the city has announced plans to mark the occasion in grand fashion, with Point Park serving as a partner in the festivities.

“In 2008, Pittsburgh celebrated the founding of Fort Pitt and the beginnings of a community at the ‘Forks of the Ohio,’ as they called it in 1758,” Andy Masich, chairman of the city’s Bicentennial Commission, said in a phone interview Thursday. “But now, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the city of Pittsburgh.”

What had begun as a fur trading outpost and pre-Revolutionary War fort had grown into a hub for trade and industry.

“In those days, the [state] legislature had to determine if a township or a borough was of significant enough stature to become a municipality, a city,” Masich said. “On Mar. 18, they took a vote in Harrisburg and determined that it was time for Pittsburgh to become a city.”

Gloria Forouzan, office manager for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, said in a phone interview Saturday that in anticipation of the bicentennial, last year the city “assembled a commission consisting of the leaders of over 30 nonprofits.”

In turn, these nonprofits have recruited partner organizations – including Point Park University and the Pittsburgh Playhouse – to create a network to plan a year-long celebration. Forouzan said that in total there are over 200 smaller community-oriented organizations taking part in hosting or sponsoring events.

The celebration kicks off Mar. 16 with a celebration at the City-County Building on Grant Street. Masich said that city officials will open a time capsule placed in the cornerstone of the City-County Building 100 years ago at its dedication.

“We will have the original charter here on exhibit,” Masich said. “It’s been in Harrisburg for the last 200 years, and we’re working now to conserve it and then have it brought from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh for the first time in 200 years, and that will be on exhibit at the City-County Building on March 18.”

After its unveiling, the charter will then move to the Heinz History Center to be displayed through the end of the year before being returned to the state archives in Harrisburg.

Masich said that the city itself will hold five signature events described as “must-see” events. Those events are Incorporation Day on March 16, a “Birthday Bash” on July 8 at the History Center, a parade down Liberty Avenue July 9, an event to celebrate Pittsburgh’s bridges in November and the annual First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve.

“There are probably going to be more than 200 events all together that will be hosted by the partner organizations from the [Pittsburgh] Symphony to the History Center and everyone in between,” Masich said.

Forouzan said that the parade held July 9 will be a grand affair spanning the length of Liberty Avenue and concluding at Point State Park.

The date was picked because it marks the bicentennial of the election of the city’s first mayor, Ebenezer Denny. Masich said the city has found and invited the descendants of all of Pittsburgh’s 60 mayors and that the city plans to have all of Pittsburgh’s mayors represented in the parade.

“We want the parade to represent a bridge respecting the past and building a bridge to the future,” Forouzan said.

She hopes that students from all of the area universities take part in the parade. Specifically, she said that the city would love to see Point Park at the event representing Pittsburgh’s rich arts history.

“I’d love to see performing arts students in the parade [representing] the future,” Forouzan said. “The city has been a starting ground for artists [through the years].”

The theme of connecting Pittsburgh’s rich past to the future continues in November with a celebration of Pittsburgh’s bridges. While still in the planning process, Masich said the event could have a fireworks display and a party on one of Pittsburgh’s bridges.

Point Park University and the Pittsburgh Playhouse are partnering organizations in the bicentennial, being a part of the evolution of the city’s industry which has ranged historically from fur trading to steel to technology.

“Education is now an industry in Pittsburgh that’s bigger than what some of our industries were in their heyday if you put all of our educational institutions together,” Masich said. “We live in an age of information and knowledge and now our industries are shifting that way as well.”

Masich and Forouzan both emphasized that the five signature events are by no means the full picture. Community organizations, non-profits, universities and more have signed on to host celebrations throughout the city, making this a grass-roots celebration effort.

“The schools are figuring out how they’re going to participate in those major events and every school,” said Karina Chavez, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education, in a phone interview Friday. “[Each university] is probably going to be figuring out how to participate in different ways.”

Chavez has been working with the bicentennial commission representing the area universities, and said the current focus is linking the schools to the city and the city to its schools. The hope is that students connect to their community and the community embraces the students.

“All of the Point Park existing activities and calendar events that are uniquely Point Park will be in the Bicentennial calendar,” Chavez said. “We want to celebrate Point Park in its own right.”

Point Park University marketing and public relations managing director Lou Corsaro said in an e-mail Wednesday, “We always encourage our students to take advantage of what Downtown Pittsburgh has to offer, and we will make sure they are aware of the various and exciting opportunities around them as the bicentennial celebration takes shape.”

Masich and Forouzan emphasized a similar point: the best way for students to celebrate is to get involved in their campus and in their community.

“We’re asking everyone to pitch in – whatever they can and whatever they do best – let’s showcase what Pittsburgh is all about,” Masich said. “It celebrates not only what we’re good at but that can-do working spirit that characterizes our community.”

For the listing of community events celebrating the bicentennial, visit www.pgh200.com.

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