The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 1, 2012

Steelers threaten suit over Heinz Field seating

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have filed notice they’ll sue the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority over stalled plans to add 3,000 seats to the team’s 11-year-old stadium, Heinz Field.

The Steelers contend their lease requires the authority to pay about two-thirds of the estimated $39 million the team expects it will cost to add the end zone seats and a new video scoreboard those fans can see.

The team thought the authority could raise its share through a $1 ticket surcharge and an extra $2-$3 parking fee but Alco Parking Co., which operates the stadium lots, has balked at that.

As a result, the authority – which runs the city’s sports stadiums and venues like its convention center – has so far refused to foot its share of the looming bill, the team says.

A clause in the team’s 30-year stadium lease requires the authority to pay two-thirds of a “designated expansion” of no more than 10,000 seats in the south end zone, which is where the team wants to add the new seats.

The stadium now has 65,050 seats.

“I think the court can help us interpret terms of the lease that we think are very clear,” said Mark Hart, the team’s director of strategic planning and development.

“This state-of-the-art expansion assures that Heinz Field would remain the first-class facility our fans expect and deserve,” team President Art Rooney II said in a statement.

“The SEA is our landlord and it is not holding up its end of the lease.”

Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo said the agency has continued to negotiate with the Steelers, but is also limited by how much debt it can incur and how much income it is able to raise to fund that debt.

The authority had hoped to use the ticket surcharge and extra parking revenue to support a $20 million bond issue toward its share of the cost.

Alco President Merrill Stabile said the Steelers “can finance this all themselves” and objects to passing on the parking fee to his customers.

Stabile said Alco is willing to contribute an unspecified amount to the authority’s share of the expansion costs, however.

The Steelers contributed more than $123 million toward the cost of the stadium, which cost $281 million to build, but raised most of its share by selling the 20-year naming rights to the H.J. Heinz Co. for $57 million and $40 million by selling personal seat licenses to fans.

Rooney said the Steelers have already advanced $6 million on design, planning and improvements needed for the planned expansion.