Pittsburgh making a splash with refreshed Point State Park fountain

'Riverlights at Point' celebration is today


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After 12 years and $40 million, the rebirth of Point State Park in Downtown Pittsburgh will be capped off today when the fountain at the Point shoots back into operation.

The 150-foot water spout -- symbolic of Pittsburgh the way the Gateway Arch identifies St. Louis or the Golden Gate Bridge means San Francisco -- has been mostly shut off for four years for refurbishing. That coincided with reconstruction and repurposing of the park itself and will culminate in a ceremony at 5 p.m. today attended by Gov. Tom Corbett.

"We're excited," said Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of Riverlife, the civic group that worked on the project with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Restarting the fountain coincides with the opening day of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which has Ms. Schroeder and others crossing their fingers that the rain that often accompanies the festival holds off for their event.

To celebrate the return of the fountain, there will be a special light show at dusk today through Sunday called "Riverlights at the Point" that Ms. Schroeder called "a way to welcome back the fountain in a grand scale."

Part of the display, called "Pittsburgh: Spectral Ascending," will feature six lasers stationed on top of PPG Place projecting colored lights off the top of the 150-foot spray. The concept was developed by Pittsburgh firm Lightwave International and German artist Yvette Mattern, who previously worked together on displays for the Cultural Olympiad preceding the London Olympics and "Global Rainbow" in New York and Europe.

On the ground, there will be 20-foot illuminated flags throughout the park developed by Clear Story Creative of Pittsburgh and Braddock-based Zero-Fossil that use solar panels for lighting.

The return of the fountain is good news for VisitPittsburgh, said Connie George, vice president for communication at the agency that promotes conventions and tourism.

"When outsiders think of Pittsburgh, the visual we want to come to mind is that vision of the Point," she said.

"One of the things unique to Pittsburgh is the fountain and the geography with the hills surrounding the rivers. It just shows the vibrancy of the city."

The fountain itself, which first gushed in 1974, has gone through major changes, including raising it a few inches to minimize damage during flooding at the Point. In addition to new pumping equipment, it features a bronze-colored spout where the water will shoot from and a flat waterfall area near the center that forms a pool near the edge.

State-of-the-art LED lighting will let viewers "see how the water shines at night," Ms. Schroeder said. The lights can change colors for special events, she said.

For today's celebration, access to the fountain will be limited to the walkways along the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers to protect grass recently planted on the approach to the fountain. Visitors can go under the portal bridge and follow paths to the area around the fountain.

Finishing the fountain is the culmination of $40 million worth of work at the park, which attracts upwards of 3 million visitors each year. Ms. Schroeder said the park -- the only urban state park in the country -- had grown "tired" after years of hosting major concerts, regattas and arts festivals since it opened in the late 1950s following more than 20 years of planning.

The latest construction began in 2006, after more than five years of planning, with a goal of shifting the focus of the 36-acre site from the section close to the rivers to the area directly across from the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh. The park was built on the original pre-Revolutionary War site of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt.

Once it became a park, the river side took the brunt of heavy use with a permanent stage placed among the trees for concerts by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, among others. A key part of the reconstruction at the front of the park was replacing the old Fort Pitt Music Bastions, 8-foot-deep trenches that simulated the original fort's wall, to create flat space known as the Great Lawn, euphemistically called the city's green living room.

Now, that space can be used daily for picnics or pickup sports and on special occasions like the Arts Festival a full stage is installed for concerts. Permanent utility hookups make it easier to host events without damaging the park. The new Cafe in the Park is available for lunch.

On the river side, the changes include restoring the river walkways and installing amphitheaters along both rivers. Additionally, landscaping has been returned to the original concept of native plants, Ms. Schroeder said, the beginning of growth that "will look like a wooded forest in a few years."

Between the two areas, the reflecting pond under the portal bridge has been painted and had new lighting installed.

Riverlife also is about 80 percent finished with its plan to join park slivers along the Mon and Allegheny with Point State Park to create Three Rivers Park from the Hot Metal Bridge to the 31st Street Bridge. Additional information about the history of the park site also will be forthcoming.

Ms. Schroeder credited cooperation among Riverlife, the state and the Allegheny Conference with moving the project ahead.

"This was a very large project and we greatly appreciate the public's patience," Ms. Schroeder said. "While it seems like this took a long time to complete, it's a fraction of the time it took to create the park initially."

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Ed Blazina: eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470. First Published June 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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