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Winter Classic expected to help Pittsburgh economy

When Penguins president David Morehouse and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl attended the NHL's first Winter Classic, they talked about how great it would be to bring the hockey showcase — and all the publicity and money generated from it — to their city one day.

Four years later, the two sat side-by-side Tuesday along with city tourism officials to tout the $23 million next week's Winter Classic at Heinz Field is expected to bring to the region. The game pits the Penguins and star Sidney Crosby against the Washington Capitals and rival Alex Ovechkin on one of the busiest weekends of the year, Pittsburgh's annual New Year's Eve weekend celebration known as First Night.

"Pittsburgh will be the focal point of the hockey world — not only the hockey world, but the entire sports world," Morehouse said.

City officials said they are expecting 30,000 fans from Washington at the Jan. 1 outdoor game at the home of the Steelers, which will seat about 60,000. About 10,000 people are expected at an alumni game the day before.

First Night, which is made up of 150 events at 50 venues in the city's cultural district, usually draws about 35,000 people.

"We have something for everyone," First Night director Kathryn Heidemann said. She said many of this year's activities are hockey-themed, including a meet-and-greet with a penguin from the National Aviary and hockey-themed art shows.

Several activities are planned leading up to the game, including a pep rally in the downtown area known as Market Square on Dec. 30. Ravenstahl encouraged people to attend for a chance to win tickets to the game — what he called "the hottest ticket in town."

Hotels in the city are booked, though officials said there may be some available outside of the city. And to avoid gridlock on game day, the Port Authority of Allegheny County is offering an incentive for fans to take public transit: Rides on the bus and light rail on New Year's Day will be free.

Those who can't get a ticket to the game are encouraged to take advantage of another attraction opening in conjunction with the Winter Classic. An ice rink is being build adjacent to Heinz Field. It will be open for general skating but also will feature some youth hockey games.