Steelers poised to sue over deal to add seats to Heinz Field
By Jeremy Boren
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 4:38 p.m.
The Pittsburgh Steelers moved to sue the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority in a spat over how to pay for a planned 3,000-seat expansion the team wants in Heinz Field.
The dispute hinges on how much the taxpayer-supported SEA, which owns the stadium on the North Shore, should contribute to the roughly $38 million to $39 million expansion of the 11-year-old stadium's south end zone and construction of a second video scoreboard.
Steelers officials want the authority to contribute about two-thirds of the cost, which they say is in line with a provision in the team's lease. SEA officials want to contribute less than that, but it's unclear how much. The two sides discussed extending the Steelers' 30-year lease of the stadium as part of the expansion deal.
A notice that the Steelers intend to sue, filed on Tuesday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, does not detail the team's complaint.
Mary Conturo, executive director of the SEA, said she did not have details of the pending litigation. She said she expects the two sides will meet to work on an agreement despite the lawsuit.
“The authority has been in discussions with the Steelers since April, and we've been working with the Steelers and our legal and financial advisers to find a solution to the issues that are consistent with our legal obligations and fit with the SEA's capacity to incur debt and generate income,” Conturo said. “We're willing to work on it, but we don't have an agreement.”
Steelers President Art Rooney II said he is disappointed the discussions broke down. Steelers officials hoped to reach agreement on the expansion by the end of October so it would be finished in time for next season.
“We are extremely disappointed that the SEA has not given timely assurance of its intention to honor our lease for our Heinz Field expansion,” Rooney said in a written statement. “This state-of-the-art expansion assures that Heinz Field would remain the first-class facility our fans expect and deserve. The SEA is our landlord, and it is not holding up its end of the lease.”
The SEA and the Steelers discussed adding a $1 surcharge to tickets and a fee of up to $3 on parking in game-day lots to support a roughly $20 million bond issue by the authority and backed by the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which gets money from sales tax.
Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking Corp., which operates the stadium lots, said he opposes the parking surcharge. He said he is willing to contribute to the SEA's end of the project in some way.
“The fact of the matter is the (Steelers) can finance this all themselves,” Stabile said.
Rooney said Heinz Field generated more than $100 million in tax revenue since it opened in 2001.
“It is on track to more than pay for the public money that was invested in the project,” he said.
Heinz Field cost about $280.8 million to build. The Steelers contributed more than $123 million toward the project, which included $57 million from H.J. Heinz Co. for naming rights to the stadium for 20 years and $40 million from seat license sales.
The team sells end zone seat licenses for $880, according to a Steelers-sanctioned website that allows season ticket holders to resell their licenses. It's unclear how many of the new seats the team would designate for season ticket holders, but if it's all of them, that would generate $2.64 million in seat licenses alone. Ticket prices of $100 to $150 a seat over eight regular season games would generate $2.4 million to $3.6 million more a season from the expansion, not including pre-season and playoff games.
Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten declined to comment on seat prices.
“The Steelers have already advanced more than $6 million in improvements, design and planning costs to keep the current projects moving and more than double that amount in ongoing repair and maintenance costs since Heinz Field first opened in 2001,” Rooney's statement said.
Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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