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Steelers blast trash talk of Chesney concertgoers

| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 11:52 p.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.

Quit carping about the trash, or country star Kenny Chesney and other headliners might go away for good.

That's the warning the Pittsburgh Steelers gave North Shore parking executive Merrill Stabile, who spoke up about the 60,000-pound avalanche of garbage that some music fans scattered outside Heinz Field last month. He told reporters he wants the daylong party to be shorter and said some partiers are part of a difficult crowd that, by one estimate, dumped five times as much trash in the lots compared with an average Steelers game.

The critiques aggravated Chesney's managers and jeopardized booking concerts because Stabile “chose to publicly slander the fans” after the June 22 show, according to Jimmie Sacco, the Steelers' executive director of stadium management.

“Apparently, Mr. Stabile's main complaint was that the Chesney fans left behind too much garbage,” Sacco wrote in a July 1 letter sent to the city Stadium Authority and obtained by the Tribune-Review. Sacco said the show caused no serious property damage, and he urged the authority board to ask Stabile for an explanation of his remarks.

The Stadium Authority owns parking lots near Heinz Field, where Chesney has played summer concerts since 2005. Stabile's Alco Parking Corp. manages and organizes cleanup for most parking in the stadium area, including about 10,000 spaces used for the Chesney show.

Stabile called Sacco's letter “ludicrous,” saying he wasn't complaining but merely making observations when reporters called him.

“It's a feeble attempt to set me up as a fall guy if this concert or other similar ones don't occur,” Stabile said. He said his company profits from the Chesney show, which attracted 49,042 attendees, and that he didn't suggest eliminating the event.

In a letter responding to the Steelers' management company, PSSI Stadium LLC, Stabile said no one would benefit by denying the problem. Though most fans were responsible, the tailgaters produced more garbage and crowd control problems than other events, he said.

“If the Steeler organization is waiting for an apology from me, I can only characterize my sentiments with a title to an old country-western song, ‘If the phone don't ring, it's me,' ” Stabile wrote.

Stabile, who has a history of spats with Steelers management, dismissed the idea that his remarks could put shows at risk.

“We want to do better next time around, and we want to continue to encourage concerts,” Stabile said. Los Angeles-based AEG, which manages Chesney's tours, did not respond to requests for comment. Sacco said his letter speaks for itself.

Stadium Authority Chairman Michael Danovitz referred questions to Executive Director Mary Conturo, who said city, Alco and stadium officials are collaborating to strengthen management of the next Chesney show.

“We're focused on improving the event for next year,” Conturo said.

Cleanup workers outside the concert, part of a national tour with other acts, said the mess left behind was one of the worst since Heinz Field opened in 2001. The garbage haul of 60,000 pounds from Alco lots — not including recyclables — was about 20 percent bigger than refuse after Chesney's 2012 show. It included a putrid melange of human waste, half-eaten food, warm beer and dirty furniture.

Sacco has said parking managers could better handle the ordeal. He wrote in his letter that Alco failed to implement management suggestions made this year.

Stabile disputed that, saying his company added portable toilets — for a total of 85 — and garbage receptacles for this summer's show. He said attendants handed out garbage bags to visitors, and the company plans to pre-sell parking for concerts next summer to ease traffic and partying.

Additional security and clean-up efforts are in the works, Stabile said.

Councilman Corey O'Connor, a Stadium Authority board member, advocated a comprehensive cleanup approach that would bring together private and public entities. His father, the late Mayor Bob O'Connor, coined Pittsburgh's “Redd Up” campaign.

“They have worked together before,” O'Connor said. “I don't see why they wouldn't be able to work together in the future.”

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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