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Stadium authority says contract doesn't require it to pay for Heinz Field expansion

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 11:55 a.m.

Not much has gone smoothly for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. The team's proposal to expand Heinz Field is no exception.

Sports & Exhibition Authority officials told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James on Monday it shouldn't have to pay nearly $29 million to add 3,000 seats, a scoreboard and control room upgrades at the stadium it owns.

The Steelers filed notice late last month warning the team intended to sue the authority for refusing to pay two-thirds of costs associated with the expansion, which the team contends is required under its lease.

This is the first time the two sides have met in a courtroom. James termed it a “status conference,” a hint the dispute will end up at trial.

“We'll be strongly defending this case, because the Sports & Exhibition Authority has not violated the lease, in its judgment, and we're hopeful the court will ultimately agree with that,” said Walter DeForest, an attorney representing the authority.

DeForest told James the lease specifies conditions that must be met before the authority is obligated to pay for a “capital improvement” to the stadium.

A key provision states that at least half of National Football League stadiums must have undergone similar expansions and paid for 25 percent of the cost of those expansions with tax dollars. That hasn't happened, DeForest said.

“We clearly disagree,” said Steelers attorney Kevin Lucas. “We believe the obligations of the SEA are clear in the lease and the amounts of money that are being requested are required by the lease.”

The Steelers have cited a lease provision that requires the SEA to pay two-thirds of the cost of a seat expansion of fewer than 10,000.

DeForest said the team wants the authority to pay about $5 million for the control room, $3.6 million for scoreboard above the north end zone, and $20 million to install the seats. He said the Steelers spent money on the control room upgrade.

Steelers officials declined to confirm those figures. When the sides were negotiating, the Steelers proposed imposing a surcharge of $1 per game ticket and $2 to $3 on parking, so that fans would pay toward the authority's share of the seat expansion costs. The plan fizzled when Alco Parking Corp., which operates most of the North Shore parking lots, balked at the parking surcharge.

The total project, including the scoreboard and other costs, is about $40 million.

Lucas, an attorney at Downtown law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney where Steelers President Art Rooney II works, told James he won't represent the Steelers at trial. He didn't provide a reason.

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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