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Steelers, SEA disagree over who should pay for 3,000 additional seats at Heinz Field

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Thursday, June 13, 2013, 1:39 p.m.
 

Attorneys for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority disagreed Thursday over which entity is responsible for paying for 3,000 additional seats at Heinz Field.

Their arguments before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James hinged on two paragraphs in the team's lease of Heinz Field from the SEA that talk about capital improvements.

Steelers attorney Arthur H. Stroyd Jr. said the seating upgrade to the south end of the North Shore stadium should be considered a capital improvement, and the SEA should be forced to pay two-thirds of the cost, or roughly $20 million. Heinz Field ranks 25th out of 31 NFL stadiums in terms of seating capacity.

Walter DeForest, an attorney representing the SEA, contended the upgrade is a “modification” of the stadium and does not meet the lease's definition of a capital improvement. The SEA wants the Steelers to foot the entire cost of the upgrades.

James — a Steelers season ticket holder — said he would rule on the issue within a week. He set a tentative trial date for Dec. 4.

The seating issue is part of a larger disagreement over upgrades at the 12-year-old stadium. The Steelers also want to add a scoreboard to the north end zone and be repaid for refurbishing its audio-visual control room. The total cost of the upgrades has been estimated at about $40 million.

The Steelers filed the lawsuit against the SEA after a deal to finance the addition fell apart. A proposed agreement would have paid for the expansion by charging fans an extra dollar to buy a ticket to the game and adding $2 to $3 dollars to the cost to park around Heinz Field during home games.

Stroyd called the SEA's position a “smokescreen” because it does not have enough money in a capital reserve fund to pay for the upgrades.

“I don't make a smokescreen argument,” DeForest said after the hearing. “Our argument is based upon the language of the lease.”

Mary Conturo, executive director of the SEA, said the organization has $4 million in its capital reserve fund. She declined further comment.

Mark Hart, director of planning and development for the Steelers, said the hearing was an important step to make sure the SEA lives up to its obligations.

“The expansion of Heinz Field will allow an opportunity for more Steelers fans to attend games. It is unfortunate that it has come to this after negotiating with the SEA for months,” Hart said. “If this matter is not resolved in the near future, another year of increased fan attendance and increased tax revenue will be lost.”

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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