The mighty duck that has seized Pittsburgh by the beak since it hatched three weeks ago is ready to leave the nest.
The 40-foot Rubber Duck, the brainbird of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman that has been floating in the Allegheny River just off of Point State Park since Sept. 27, will depart at 11 p.m. Sunday, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said on Friday.
Despite petitions to keep it here, the trust is sticking with its initial plan to remove the Rubber Duck Project this weekend. The artist always intended for it to be a temporary installation, and the limited engagement means interest in the bird will not fade, said Paul Organisak, vice president of programming for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The timing also coincides with the Ravens vs. Steelers game Sunday at Heinz Field.
Visitors duck in to say farewell to a giant
Even as the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced plans to remove the giant rubber duck from its Allegheny River perch, visitors were still flocking to Point State Park to bid a fond farewell. (Video by Doug Oster; 10/18/2013)
"We love the fact that there's an avian connection with the Ravens," Mr. Organisak said.
After the park closes on Sunday, the trust will move the bird to an undisclosed location, where it will be cleaned -- "It does collect bird droppings," said Mr. Organisak -- dried and deflated. It will be stored in a warehouse on the South Side.
"It came in like a lion. Let's let it go like a lamb," Mr. Organisak said.
The public frenzy over the duck has far exceeded the expectations of the Cultural Trust, which owns the duck and incubated it for the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts. More than a million people have flocked to the Point to visit the inflated bird, according to estimates from the park and local hotels, and 100,000 came for the opening party last month. That makes it the highest attended program in the trust's history, Mr. Organisak said.
Those numbers may dramatically increase after this final weekend and don't even include those who viewed the bird from fowl territory, such as Mount Washington or the North Side.
"I've coined a new term, called rubber duck-necking," said Mr. Organisak, referring to a movement observers do to see the artwork while crossing bridges.
The high attendance flies in the face of the Cultural Trust's feather-light estimate -- a mere 200 people per day -- when it applied for a permit to use aquatic real estate off of Point State Park.
Craig Davis, president and CEO of Visit Pittsburgh, estimated that roughly 95 percent of visitors were Pittsbirders. Still, people from across the country and Canada have come here to see it shining like a beacon on Pittsburgh's water. Others have viewed it on CNN, "Good Morning America" and "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams, or on Twitter, where it has trended.
It is also worth its weight in duck pate, having generated tens of millions of dollars for the local economy, according to Mr. Davis, though he said it is difficult to assess the duck's exact monetary impact.
The Cultural Trust has sold 30,000 pieces of merchandise. In addition, the Fort Pitt Block House as of Thursday had seen a record 10,000-plus visitors and garnered $4,000 in souvenir sales this month, up from 1,670 visitors and $890, respectively, for the same time last October.
"From our perspective, we saw a lot more local traffic," said Julie Abramovic, public relations manager at Fairmont Pittsburgh, though specific figures were unavailable. She pointed out that many Pittsburghers paired a visit to see the rubber duck with lunch at the hotel's restaurant, Habitat, located just a few blocks from the park.
So, what's next for the duck? Cultural Trust officials do not know, simply wanting to take time to reflect on this month's experience, though they haven't ruled out bringing the big bird back for the occasional cameo.
Mr. Organisak has received several inquiries from cities looking to buy or borrow the canard, though he said he is not interested in selling it.
Contractually, a Hofman duck can't head anywhere else until January.
The duck didn't comment on the matter, simply saying, "I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family."
First Published October 18, 2013 8:00 PM