Businesses lament change of venue for practice during Steelers fest
The grass problem that forced the Pittsburgh Steelers to transplant the team's Friday night practice location from Memorial Stadium in Latrobe to the St. Vincent College campus didn't seem to faze fans, but downtown businesses were lamenting the loss of foot traffic.
“Last year we were filled and had people waiting at the door to get in,” said Carol Wuenstel, manager of the Valley Dairy restaurant on Jefferson Street, just a few hundred feet from the stadium. “We'll probably lose about $2,500 today.
“We've only seen regulars today, pretty much,” Wuenstel added. “Nobody's coming in. Last year, it was all strangers we were seeing because you got everybody from out of town.”
Organizers from the City of Latrobe and the Greater Latrobe School District scrambled to alter plans when the grass at Memorial Stadium was affected by a blight.
“We've already re-seeded it and everything will be fine; We'll have no problem by the time the first high school game starts,” said Ken Millslagle, the district's director of facilities and operations. “It's actually germinating now. You can actually see grass starting to take, but we don't want to get on it yet. The timing worked against us when it came to using the field tonight.”
Instead, the all-day Fan Fest was moved from the parking lot around the stadium at Legion-Keener Park in the city to the St. Vincent campus in Unity. All the same activities were offered, including a post-practice concert by Latrobe band Saddle Up, and a fireworks display.
Calls to Greater Latrobe's business director and superintendent to comment on the annual night practice were not returned on Friday.
“We don't do this for money for the district,” said district director of transportation and athletics Mark Mears. “This night's not about money. It's about the Steeler Nation getting to have fireworks and a band and everyone coming together in the Latrobe community.”
The Fan Fest, which started at noon, attracted high numbers of fans from the start.
“We got more than we thought we would,” said Jarod Trunzo, Latrobe's director of community engagement and sustainability and Fan Fest event manager. “We were pretty surprised, in a good way, that even at 12 (noon) we started getting droves of people. It was very consistent and then really, really picked up towards the end. By 5 p.m. it was just a steady stream, hundreds coming through every minute.”
Kyle and John Cole flew in from Melbourne, Fla. for their first visit to training camp, and weren't put off at all by the night practice's change of venue.
“We don't know any better,” Kyle said. “Campus is beautiful and it's awesome just to be this close to the players.”
Dan Banks and his wife, Courtney, drove more than five hours from Tiffin, Ohio earlier in the week to attend training camp for the second time.
“I kind of like it here better,” Dan said, comparing this year's night practice to last year's. “I think it's a better location, more open and a lot easier to get to for people.”
“A lot of people make arrangements just for this one,” Trunzo said of the night practice. “Not everybody comes up for every day of camp. Some people may choose which day they're going to come, and this one's always been really well attended.”
Downtown Latrobe business owners said they are just hoping next year's night practice is well-attended a bit closer to their front doors.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.