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Steelers sue city-county SEA for $35 million

| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 12:03 a.m.

The Pittsburgh Steelers want the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority to pay about $35 million for expansion and upgrade projects at Heinz Field, court documents posted on Monday show.

The dispute over how much the taxpayer-supported SEA, which owns the stadium on the North Shore, should contribute to three projects at the 11-year-old stadium has dragged on for months.

The complaint, which attorney Arthur H. Stroyd Jr. filed on Friday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, says the SEA should repay the Steelers $5 million for a refurbished audio-visual control room; pay the $3.65 million cost of a new scoreboard on the north side of Heinz Field; and pay two-thirds of the estimated $40 million cost of 3,000 seats in the south end zone area. The Steelers say terms of their lease of Heinz Field from SEA make the authority responsible for the payments.

If the Steelers win, the SEA would be on the hook for roughly $35 million.

SEA officials want to contribute less than that, but it's unclear how much.

Stroyd was unavailable to comment. Bill Stickman, an attorney who works with Stroyd at the Downtown law firm Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd, said the complaint “sums up the whole story,” but would not elaborate. Stickman said the SEA has 20 days to respond to the complaint.

Mary Conturo, executive director of the SEA, said the agency plans to review the complaint and have lawyers respond. She said there are no meetings scheduled between the groups.

“We haven't been through the complaint yet in real detail,” she said. “But I wouldn't say it's anything new.”

She previously said the two sides have talked since April to work on an agreement. The sides talked about extending the Steelers' 30-year lease of the stadium and adding a $1 surcharge to tickets and a fee of up to $3 on parking in game-day lots. Revenue from the fees could finance a roughly $20 million authority bond issue backed by the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which gets money from a sales tax.

The Steelers contend the root of the problem is that the SEA does not have enough money in a capital reserve fund to pay for the upgrades and hasn't acted to raise money for them.

Steelers President Art Rooney II could not be reached. Rooney said in a statement Oct. 31 that he was disappointed the discussions broke down. The Steelers hoped to reach an agreement on the stadium expansion by the end of October so it would be finished in time for next season, according to the lawsuit.

“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,” Rooney said. “It is unfortunate that the SEA has chosen not to live up to its promises and obligations as landlord. At this point, we have been left with no alternative other than to go to court to enforce the terms of our lease.”

The lawsuit says the Steelers spent more than $1.25 million a year to repair and maintain Heinz Field and have supported development on the North Shore, including construction of the Del Monte Center, Stage AE and the Hyatt Place Hotel. Additionally, the team claims it has paid $132 million in ticket surcharges and taxes in the 11 years since the completion of Heinz Field and estimates it will pay another $95 million to $100 million in taxes by the end of the lease in 2031.

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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