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Chesney concert in Pittsburgh has leaders considering new approach to contain problems

| Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Trash cans overflow around the parking lots near Heinz Field before the Kenny Chesney concert on Saturday, June 22, 2013. Fans partied and tailgated for hours before the concert.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Trash begins to pile up in the parking lots near Heinz Field before the Kenny Chesney concert on Saturday, June 22, 2013. Fans partied and tailgated for hours before the Kenny Chesney concert there.
Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review
An employee of Kail's parking helps clean the remains of the Kenny Chesney concert, the morning after. Kail's owns numerous parking lots in Pittsburgh, including this one, located between Heinz Field and the Rivers Casino.

The daylong North Shore booze bash that greets Kenny Chesney each year will undergo scrutiny from Pittsburgh police and parking managers before the country music icon returns.

City safety leaders and event logistics workers agreed the crowd of more than 55,000 at and around Chesney's show Saturday was among the rowdiest and dirtiest since he began playing Heinz Field in 2005. Police reported making 73 arrests and citations, and responding to at least 10 large fights. Many fans started drinking in the morning many hours before the evening show.

Crews worked 15 hours to collect garbage and tidy lots, up from about 12 hours for Chesney's June 2012 show, said Leroy Stotler Jr., president of Three Rivers Power Sweep in Apollo.

He said the mess of half-eaten food, warm beer, couches, portable pools and other refuse was about five times that for an average Steelers game.

“People make their own toilets. Lots of those. Five-gallon buckets and cardboard boxes.” said Stotler, whose company leads the cleanup operation. “I'll leave that up to your imagination.”

He estimated crews hauled off 45,000 to 60,000 pounds of garbage, not counting recyclables.

Los Angeles-based AEG, which manages Chesney's tours, did not comment and referred questions to Heinz Field officials.

An administrator at Heinz Field said problems inside the stadium declined from the 2012 concert. He did not have numbers.

“The fans were great. There were a few incidents here and there. Nothing severe. Nobody got hurt,” said Jimmie Sacco, executive director of stadium management.

Paramedics transported 45 people to hospitals and treated 150 people in and around Heinz Field, police said.

By Monday evening, a Facebook page pushing a Pittsburgh ban on Chesney had nearly 5,000 fans, many debating the value of the concerts.

Pittsburgh officials will discuss how they can better manage the crowd whenever Chesney makes his next North Shore stop, city Public Safety Director Michael Huss said.

“I've got to be honest with you: It's a long day, and a few folks are consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and causing some grief,” Huss said. “A lot of people attend without incident and are respectful. But there's always going to be some that are out of hand.”

Huss said it's too soon to know how police might change their management, though toughened regulations could be in store for recreational boaters on the Allegheny River. Some tie up for weeks before the Chesney concert, while others tether their boats together — a trend that worries City Council President Darlene Harris.

“Boats have gasoline or diesel. If one catches fire and they're all connected, how do those people get to land safely?” asked Harris, who is weighing whether to propose new rules.

Alco Parking Corp., which operates most lots near Heinz Field, added security for this summer's Chesney show and will brainstorm new approaches for next summer, company President Merrill Stabile said.

He said Alco would like the party to be shorter.

Sacco said he could not control or comment on behavior in the parking lots. He suggested parking managers might employ “some better practices ... to help themselves.”

Sacco called the concert an overall boon for Pittsburgh. He said the area collects nearly $500,000 in tax revenue from the event.

“There is not one entity on the North Shore that has an establishment that's complaining. They welcome these things,” Sacco said.

At the Northside North Shore Chamber of Commerce, executive director Robin Rosemary Miller said the rowdy outburst could inspire reflection.

“Maybe next year some of the diehard fans will take it upon themselves to create a cleanup coalition or at least police themselves,” Miller said. “Sometimes it just takes something like this. All the good people who go shouldn't be penalized for the actions of some.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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