EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta Serves as Boost to City’s
2 July 2013
By Tom Fontaine
Organizers expect the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta to
generate as much as $30 million for local businesses, making it a
powerful economic engine among Western Pennsylvania's signature
annual events, but it has challenges to remain a top draw.
The three-day affair — billed as the nation's largest inland
regatta — shrank after a theft scandal and public funding largely
dried up, forcing organizers to lean heavily on private donors to
underwrite powerboat races, music and a range of exhibitions and
activities in and around Point State Park.
“Most people think we're flush with cash, but we're a nonprofit
that operates on pretty thin margins,” regatta board Chairman John
Bonassi called it “remarkable” that the event remains as large as
In years past, when the regatta was held over as many as 10 days,
it secured up to $500,000 annually in state money. Last year,
state aid dwindled to $50,000. This year, the regatta won't
receive money from Harrisburg for the first time in memory,
Allegheny County contributed a $50,000 grant that will pay for
fencing, signs and security — the only public money for the event.
“We'd be happy to accept funds from the state, but they have gone
through some belt-tightening, and we understand that,” Bonassi
He'd like for the regatta to partner with the Three Rivers Arts
Festival and First Night to make a joint push for state money to
support all three events.
“We're open to any partnership that could result in additional
funding,” said Shaunda Miles of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a
spokeswoman for the latter events.
The regatta costs $700,000 to $1 million each year, Bonassi said.
Major donors this year include Downtown energy company EQT Corp.,
Rivers Casino on the North Shore, the Downtown-based Colcom
Foundation and Trib Total Media.
“We face three challenges virtually every year: How do we keep the
event absolutely safe and secure, how do we keep it free, and how
do we attract new sponsors to keep it safe and free?” Bonassi
The regatta is no stranger to financial trouble.
After the 1997 event, the regatta had a $750,000 deficit and
Former regatta staffer Ida D'Errico blew the whistle on founder
Eugene F. Connelly for misusing more than $200,000 in regatta
money. Connelly pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in
federal prison. He died in 2009.
Regatta board members hired businessman Jim Roddey, who later
became the first Allegheny County executive, to overhaul the
“It was a real mess. Somehow, we managed to save it and get it
back on track,” Roddey said. “The difference today is that it's
solvent, and nobody is stealing money.”
But four years later, with D'Errico as executive director, the
regatta nearly went under again when several major sponsors pulled
their support months before the event. Corporate donations and
state funding kept it afloat.
The regatta, traditionally held in August, moved to the first week
of July in 2004 so it could take over the cash-strapped city's
annual fireworks display. The state declared Pittsburgh
financially distressed in December 2003.
Roddey said he believes the scheduling change “really kept the
Although it used to draw 1.5 million people and generated an
estimated $60 million for the local economy when spread over up to
10 days, Roddey said, “These are different times. I do think as
long as you can draw 400,000 to 600,000 people, you will continue
to attract sponsors.”
D'Errico, no longer associated with the event, agreed.
“It's always a challenge to raise funds, but the regatta is so
unique to our region. It's certainly evolved and changed a bit,
but that's OK. It keeps the event fresh,” D'Errico said.
Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer.