Consol Energy Center expected to finish on budget

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pittsburgh's Uptown hockey arena is on track to finish construction within its $321 million budget, according to Mary Conturo, executive director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority, a city-county agency.

Although staffers still are tallying contract close-out figures for Consol Energy Center, Conturo said she is confident the project won't exceed the final budget. The arena is scheduled to open with a Paul McCartney concert Aug. 18.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who helped shepherd a deal to keep the Penguins hockey franchise in Pittsburgh, said city officials see the arena as a step toward revitalizing the adjacent Hill District neighborhood.

"It's very exciting to see it come along so quickly," mayoral spokesoman Joanna Doven said.

But the Penguins' new home, which initially wasn't supposed to cost taxpayers anything, got to this point with $47.6 million in public funding.

State records the Tribune-Review examined show the most recent infusion of public money -- $10.1 million in state Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program grants -- was released in February. It's money the state committed when officials reached a deal to build the arena.

The latest grant follows $27 million in state grants -- for site acquisition and preparation work, and to pay investment bankers last fall when a "swap deal" underpinning the bonds that financed construction went south.

The grant was part of $174.2 million Gov. Ed Rendell's administration doled out in R-CAP grants in the first half of 2010.

The Pens weren't the only sports team to benefit from the state's largesse. Records show taxpayers underwrote $4.5 million for a minor league baseball stadium in Reading, and $7.5 million for a soccer stadium in Chester this year.

Conturo said the public investment in Consol Energy Center should be complete.

"We're not anticipating anymore. (The $10.1 million) satisfied the commitment in the final budget agreement," she said.

When officials signed the deal to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh two years ago, Rendell and local politicians said taxes on slots play and payments from the hockey team would cover the arena's cost.

But the final agreement required the state, the sports authority and the Penguins to make up the difference between the initial $290 million cost of the arena and any construction overruns, up to $321 million. In addition to the funds from the state, the Pens were responsible for $15.5 million and the authority, $5.5 million.

Additional Information:

Taxpayers' tab for Consol Energy Center:

• $10.1 million committed as the state's portion in final agreement and disbursed in February

• $ 5.5 million committed as the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority's portion

• $19.7 million in a state Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program grant

• $ 7.2 million from the state in 2008, for 'preliminary costs'

• $ 5.08 million in 2009 for investment bankers in a bond 'swap deal'

Total • $47.6 million

Source: Tribune-Review research

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