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Seating dispute leads Steelers, stadium owner to court

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 11:50 a.m.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Thursday a nearly $40 million proposal to add 3,000 seats, a video scoreboard and other fan amenities to Heinz Field can be salvaged despite a court battle between the Steelers and the stadium's owner, the Sports & Exhibition Authority.

“There is common ground to be found. We've always found a way to get these things done,” Ravenstahl said in his first comments since the Steelers filed a notice Oct. 31 of its intent to sue the authority. “I hate that it's gotten to a point where it's in court now.”

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James set a court hearing for 10 a.m. Nov. 19.

“What we need to do is come to an agreement that this is good for everybody, and then find a way to pay for it,” Ravenstahl said.

The dispute focuses on who pays and how much.

Steelers officials contend the authority is violating the team's 30-year stadium lease by refusing to pay two-thirds of the proposed expansion. The work would add the seats to the south end zone; a video scoreboard in the north end so fans in the new seats can see the board; a club level; concession areas; and an elevated concourse.

The taxpayer-funded SEA said it is willing to contribute, but at a lower, unspecified level.

Ravenstahl said the Steelers have complained during negotiations that the SEA failed to set aside enough money for “routine maintenance” of the stadium.

“Quite honestly, the authority probably hasn't done (that) to the extent that it agreed to in the lease,” Ravenstahl said.

SEA Executive Director Mary Conturo declined to discuss the planned hearing or the case.

The Steelers have proposed a surcharge combination of $1 per ticket and $2-$3 on parking that fans would pay toward the expansion. The North Shore's main parking lot operator, Alco Parking Corp., opposes such surcharges, though President Merrill Stabile has said Alco may increase parking rates next season on its own.

Ravenstahl said spending tax dollars on the stadium expansion is warranted because the additional seats would generate more tax revenue from ticket, parking and concession sales. He said that a larger stadium would benefit North Shore restaurants and bars that attract patrons during from home-game crowds at least eight times a season.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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