Pirates threaten to sue Pittsburgh authority over money for PNC Park improvements
The Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County on Thursday approved a $2.6 million payment to the Pirates for PNC Park improvements made after the 2016 season, but the team contends the authority still owes about $1.9 million.
Pirates Senior Vice President Bryan Stroh said the team spent more than $10 million on improvements during the 2016-17 offseason, including new field lighting, video boards, seating and painting and carpeting. It sought a $4.5 million reimbursement from the SEA, he said.
The team believes SEA owed the full amount, but the authority's board of directors gave unanimous approval to its payment without comment for $2.6 million.
“It's not a dollar-for-dollar where they seek reimbursement and we pay them,” board Solicitor Morgan Hanson said. “There's a due diligence process that we're required to do under the lease to ensure it's a correct reimbursable expense. That process was followed with the use of several different experts and independent consultants at arriving at this amount. We respect that they have a different view on that issue.”
Stroh said the team would seek the remainder in court if necessary.
“This does not resolve the outstanding capital repairs the Pirates put into PNC Park over a year ago,” he said. “We intend to continue to pursue our rights under the lease.”
The two sides have argued for more than a year over how much the authority was obligated to pay.
The SEA pays for capital improvements through money generated by a 5 percent surcharge on tickets. The Pirates receive the first $1.5 million generated annually by the surcharge and the SEA receives $650,000, authority Executive Director Mary Conturo said. Anything left over goes to the team, she said. About $2.5 million remained in the fund after Thursday's payment.
Hanson said the SEA contracts with Downtown-based Cannon Design to inspect the stadium each year and note what capital repairs need to be made. It determined the SEA should fully pay for some items on the Pirates' list and provide partial payment for others.
As an example, Hanson said, the SEA paid for some seats deemed to be in disrepair, but the Pirates replaced other seats that the consultants believed were unnecessary.
“There was nothing wrong, according to our consultants, with the seats that were removed,” he said. “They just chose that they wanted to take them out so they could have narrower seats so they could put more seats in. That's not a public obligation to fund.”
Stroh said PNC Park, which opened in 2001, needs additional improvements that would exceed $2.5 million. He said the stadium lease requires the SEA to find the money regardless of what's in the capital improvement fund.
“We're not talking about enhancements. We're talking about keeping it the way that it is,” he said.
Hanson and Conturo said the SEA is willing to consider other ways to raise revenue through ballpark operations. Increasing the ticket surcharge could be an option, they said.