By Francesca Dabecco, Point Park News Service
Before 30-year-old Emily Marburger became mayor of Bellevue, she already had hopes for the magic she could bring to community revitalization. Among her latest efforts is a Harry Potter inspired wizard weekend to take place this summer.
“My biggest hope is that everyone can come to this event and feel welcomed, included and excited,” Marburger said. “I want everyone to have fun and get to know their neighbors and their community in a new way.”
Tucked on the hill along the Ohio River, Bellevue covers just over one square mile and holds a population of nearly 8,000, almost a 30 percent drop since its peak of 11,600 in 1950 according to Census data. While it is often seen as a pass-through on Route 65, Marburger hopes her initiatives will make Bellevue a destination rather than another suburb on the decline.
“I want people to explore Bellevue and see what a great, unique place we have here,” she said.
Marburger, who was elected mayor in 2017, pointed to community hot-spots popping up on the town’s main street, including a hip coffee shop called Cyclops, a microbrewery, a taco joint and a new, upscale restaurant.
The wizard weekend event, officially called “WizardVue,” is not only part of Marburger’s mayoral efforts to bring more visitors and to attract more young home-buyers to Bellevue, but also to create an engaging environment for kids in the community.
“We have kids in kindergarten through 12th grade participating in this event,” Marburger said. “They are so excited and are offering varying ideas of interest and experience.”
To celebrate the event, Marburger and her event committee have been collecting “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” the first Harry Potter book in the series, to give to every 3rd through 6th grade student at Northgate and Assumption schools. They will need 500 books by the end of the school year and are currently about halfway to meeting their goal.
“We’ve found that we have a lot of Harry Potter fans, but among the younger crowd, maybe just fans of the movies,” Marburger said. “At the heart of this event is our library. It seemed natural to purchase these books for age-appropriate kids.”
For Ellen Genovese, 43, who has worked at the Andrew Bayne Memorial Library for three years, an event like this is “a librarian’s dream-come-true.”
“I love that this is celebrating the culture of reading the literature,” Genovese said. “To be able to celebrate that in Bellevue is amazing.”
From the moment Marburger approached Genovese with the idea at a council meeting last year, she was immediately on board.
“It quickly turned into a borough-wide event that isn’t focused on Harry Potter, but rather the own magical world that exists here in Bellevue,” Marburger said. “Within a week of taking my oath of office, Ellen and I got the ball rolling with creating a committee and collecting resources… this idea just really clicked with the people of Bellevue.”
WizardVue will take place on Aug. 11, a date the event’s marketing manager, Theresa Gallick, calls “a very magical day, indeed.”
“The event is 8/11/18. After we picked the date, we realized that it was a palindrome, the same frontwards and backwards… it also reads the same upside down and right side up,” Gallick said.
On this day, Bellevue will transform into a mythical world of wizardry, complete with a wizard rock festival, kids activities, specialty vendors, a variety of food trucks and more, Marburger said.
“Our business owners are shedding their normal appearances to sell what they offer to the wizard world,” Marburger said.
WizardVue adopts its own story of magic among the town to engage residents in the activities and events.
“Many people know that wizards and witches are found throughout the world… but we can’t see them because these magic folk live in an otherworldly dimension,” Gallick said, “WizardVue is the only wizarding village that becomes visible once a year – even to the non-magic people like you and me.”
All of the profits from WizardVue’s vendors and activities will go to the local library, and the combination of fundraising and a donation drive will cover costs of the event.
Twenty-year-resident Nikki Brandt, 39, and her daughter are both serving on the committee helping to fundraise so that as many of the event’s activities are free to visitors and accessible to as many families as possible.
“Tentatively, we have ideas for a paint night, donation envelope wall and Drag Bingo,” she said. “Just seeing our community coming together for the greater good… to me, that is truly where the magic is.”
Fellow committee member, Caitlin Venczel, 33, has lived in Bellevue for nearly four years and feels a similar sentiment about the community.
“Our main street is already charming, but I can’t wait to see it decorated for the event,” Venczel said. “I’m excited for the community to come out, seeing young and old alike all celebrating this book.”
For Venczel, this regeneration of community excitement is due to the efforts of Marburger entering office in January.
“I’ve been so impressed with Emily. She is working incredibly hard to bring everyone together and engage all members of the community,” Venczel said. “I am proud to be in a borough with such an amazing and active mayor.”