Peculiar Pittsburgh

Why Pittsburgh’s New Year’s Eve ball rises, not drops

‘The Future of Pittsburgh’ is — literally — on the rise.

Future of Pittsburgh ball on Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2013.

Future of Pittsburgh ball on Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2013.

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
MJ Slaby

It’s almost time. Time for countdowns, confetti and *finally* for 2017.

Pittsburgh has its own New Year’s traditions from a good luck pretzel to the Highmark First Night Pittsburgh, a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

But the grand finale is “The Future of Pittsburgh” — a ball that goes up at midnight.

Yes. Up.

New York already had its famous ball drop in Times Square. And the Cultural Trust staff said they wanted something with the same “energy and enthusiasm of New York City’s Times Square” to be the centerpiece of the Downtown festivities here.

So, they came up with “The Future of Pittsburgh,” an environmentally- friendly ball that would do the opposite of the ball in Times Square. Pittsburgh’s New Year’s Eve ball rises with the countdown to midnight and when it reaches its peak more than 70 feet up, there are fireworks (because, of course).

Pittsburgh is a city on the rise — and its NYE celebrations reflect that, said Sarah Aziz, director of Highmark First Night Pittsburgh.

The ball debuted as 2006 became 2007, and Aziz said Pittsburgh, especially Downtown, was a really different place 10 years ago.

“I think we are still a city on the rise, but back then, we really were a city on the rise,” she said.

The 10th anniversary of “The Future of Pittsburgh” nicely coincides with the city’s bicentennial, and the rising ball marks the final event of the year-long celebration, Aziz said. First Night’s theme is also a nod to the anniversary of the city’s incorporation: “The next 200 years of Pittsburgh.”

The Future of Pittsburgh ball.

The Future of Pittsburgh ball.

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

How Pittsburgh created its ‘future’ ball

Aziz said it was important to the Cultural Trust that “The Future of Pittsburgh” ball was environmentally-friendly.

“I love that it is sustainable and green and [made from] post-consumer construction,” Aziz said, adding that’s a big focus for the Cultural Trust and its festivals.

The design, lighting and actual construction were all completed by local companies, according to a fact sheet from the ball’s debut. It’s made from “3Form eco-resin material,” and the steel, aluminum and other materials all have recycled post-consumer material. The ball weighs about 1,000 pounds and has more than 1,000 LED lights, as well as more than 100 additional lights, according to the Cultural Trust.

Find the best view

Q:  Where is the best place to see “The Future of Pittsburgh” rise more than 70 feet into the air from the rooftop of Highmark’s Penn Avenue Place (aka the building with the corner Unity Tree)?

A:  Stanwix Street, Aziz said.

In past years, there was a stage on Penn Avenue, and Aziz said about half the crowd wouldn’t be able to see the ball at midnight. This year, she said the stage is on Stanwix Street and that should open up better views.

That means “really great photos,” too, she said.