Ice-carver Richard Bubin gave the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust three options when he was asked to build an "ice labyrinth" for the 20th anniversary of the city's annual Downtown New Year's Eve party: small, medium or large.
The trust opted for large, and Mr. Bubin and his team of about a dozen helpers got to work, building the glistening maze of 325-pound blocks, complete with two nearly 7-foot-tall ice thrones, in about two days.
"They asked me to kick it up a notch," said Mr. Bubin, the owner of Ice Creations, an ice-sculpting company in Churchill.
The labyrinth, which will be broken down and reassembled at Boyce Park as long as the cold weather lasts, was one of the signature draws among dozens of attractions, including concerts, a parade, face-painting, theater performances and fireworks, at Highmark First Night, a family-friendly celebration centered in the Cultural District that was expected to draw at least 35,000 people Tuesday night.
"They're amazed," said Mr. Bubin, 52. "There's a line around the block and down the street to get in."
Kevin Lowen, 11, and his brother Brian, 8, of Hershey, Pa., certainly had never seen anything like it.
"It's awesome," Kevin said.
The boys' parents, Barry and Michele Lowen, said they returned to First Night after a 10-year lapse because they're moving back to Pittsburgh after Mr. Lowen's retirement from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.
"We're looking for all the cool, fun things to do," Mrs. Lowen said.
So was Gov. Tom Corbett, who stopped into the lounge at the Benedum Center with his wife, Susan, for his first First Night in Pittsburgh as governor and a break from the state budget process.
"It's great to be home for both my wife and I. We look forward to 2014," said the governor, who grew up in Shaler and still has a permanent home there.
Mr. Corbett, who is running for re-election this year, recalled the thrill of the Pirates playoff run and hoped for a repeat in 2014.
"We look for a very prosperous and happy new year, and we wish that to everybody," he said.
Out on Penn Avenue, wood fires burned in metal barrels overseen by volunteers, and families dipped in out of storefronts or paused to take in the fire-breathers and twirlers across from the ice labyrinth at Fire and Ice Plaza and Penn Avenue and Eighth Street.
The Cultural Trust took over the celebration, which used to encompass more of Downtown, 11 years ago and condensed it into the Cultural District, said Darcy Kucenic, the event's director.
"It has such a great atmosphere," she said. "It gives a great feeling for the whole evening."
Tara Madoni and her husband, Corey Madoni, of Stanton Heights appreciated the early start for many of the events, including an early round of fireworks for kids.
"It's nice to be somewhere fun and different to make the night special for them," said Ms. Madoni, whose two young children, ages 5 and 3, were fresh from a face-painting at Urban Pathways Charter School.
Later, as the clock ticked closer to midnight, Don Thomas, 72, and his girlfriend, Bunny Elliott, 71, stood with a group they brought on a bus from Greensburg, watching the parade roll down Penn Avenue. They had already hit the Rivers Casino and taken in a performance by Johnny Angel and Halos, an oldies group.
"At our age, we can still do it," Ms. Elliott said. "It's exciting, all the different age groups."
Ms. Elliott said she recalled the excitement she felt as a young girl on New Year's Eve 1949, never thinking she'd see 2014 and the technological leaps embodied by her new iPhone.
Mr. Thomas was of the same mind.
"I didn't realize I might still be here for this," he said. "At our age, we've seen a lot."
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909.