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Often times, if a destination is very lucky, it is able to form special relationships with its business events clients. Such is the case for MeetPITTSBURGH and Anthrocon.
Since the first Anthrocon in Pittsburgh in 2006, the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburghers have welcomed the furry community with open arms. And, in the course of 16 years, the event has grown to nearly 10,000 attendees from more than 20 countries and contributed more than $71 million to the local economy.
Sadly, due to COVID-19 mitigations, Anthrocon was forced to cancel in 2020 and again in 2021. While Pittsburgh will certainly miss its friends this summer, we all eagerly look forward to welcoming them back in 2022.
John Cole, aka “K.P.,” is the Public Outreach Director for Anthrocon. Read on as he shares how Anthrocon found a home in Pittsburgh and discusses the relationship Anthrocon has developed with the city.
Anthrocon did not actually start in Pittsburgh. Anthrocon began as a small gathering in Albany, New York, in 1997. In time, Anthrocon moved to Philadelphia, and we felt things were going pretty well until we lost our host hotel in 2005. Seeking a better fit, our chairman, Dr. Sam Conway, was contacted by the wonderful folks at VisitPITTSBURGH, who asked if we would consider moving the convention to Pittsburgh.
As a Philadelphia native, that was not a choice Sam would prefer. However, he kept an open mind, traveled to Pittsburgh and was shown the beautiful David L. Lawrence Convention Center (DLCC), the grand Omni William Penn Hotel, the wonderful Westin Pittsburgh, and most importantly, he saw how beautiful Pittsburgh is and encountered the warmth and hospitality of the residents.
To say he was charmed is an understatement. He reported back to the Anthrocon Board of Directors that THIS was the location we had been searching for. So, in the summer of 2006, Anthrocon held its very first Pittsburgh convention. Not only did we fall in love with the location, but our attendees did as well. In 2006, we had 2,489 attendees, and by 2019, we had grown to 9,358 attendees. We were poised to breach the 10,000-attendee mark when the pandemic hit and caused the postponement of Anthrocon.
But Anthrocon has a deeper relationship than just raw attendance numbers. We raise money each year for a designated Pittsburgh charity. Our first charity in 2006 was the Western Pennsylvania National Wild Animal Orphanage, and we raised $8,407. Over the years, our fundraising efforts have grown. In 2019, our charity was Pearl Parrot Rescue, and we raised $46,440. In total, Anthrocon has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a variety of local charities, and we are more than happy to continue doing so, but our efforts also are growing. At the next convention in 2022, we are planning to host a citywide children’s art show to showcase the talents of Pittsburgh’s school-aged artists. We hope to expand and become a part of the vibrant Pittsburgh arts community as well.
One of the most visible parts of Anthrocon is our wonderful fursuit parade. Our costumers, who we playfully call “fursuiters,” also love Pittsburgh. What started with 353 fursuiters in our fursuit parade in 2007 has grown to more than 2,000 participants who parade along 10th Street in front of nearly 5,000 cheering spectators, marveling at the beautiful, colorful and artistic costume creations.
Seeing the Pittsburghers’ smiles is our way of giving just a bit more. Sharing Anthrocon’s Fursuit Parade with local residents is unique within the furry community. While there are more than 100 furry conventions across the globe annually, nowhere else does a city allow the closure of a street for the fursuit parade. This unique Pittsburgh event encourages furries from all six inhabited continents to travel to the city.
Our relationship with the city is quite strong. We have robust and strong business relationships with the DLCC and with our host hotels. Each hotel even has its own furry “mascot,” including such characters as “Dave,” who represents the DLCC, “Westie,” who represents the Westin, and “Drew,” who represents the Drury Hotel. We pride ourselves on being great guests at our venues and hotels, and we are always looking to expand our business relationships. In 2019, it’s estimated that Anthrocon was responsible for an economic impact of more than $9 million. We may just top that when we return in 2022.
Each year, when I meet with local Pittsburgh media members, I’m always asked the same questions - “Why here? Why Pittsburgh?” It’s quite simple. We love Pittsburgh because we really feel that Pittsburgh loves us. No other city has shown the furry community so much friendship and hospitality. We are welcomed each year with open arms, and we’ve felt so moved by the efforts of this city that we’ve even adopted black and gold as our own colors.
Pittsburgh is a great, artistic and beautiful city, and we are proud to call it our home. We are fully committed to staying in the City of Pittsburgh, and we are looking forward to returning in 2022. It is our hope that when that happens, we can give Pittsburgh our biggest celebration yet. Not only will we be happy that the pandemic is behind us, but we also will simply be happy to be back home, in the only city that Anthrocon wants to be in.
I’m personally looking forward to the summer of 2022, when I can once again drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, see the Three Sisters, drive along the banks of the Allegheny River and feel the warm embrace of a most magical and special place: the Steel City, the city of Black and Gold, the City of Pittsburgh.