The Pittsburgh Steelers and the taxpayer-funded city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority announced they’re going to try to settle a dispute over who must pay most of the estimated $30 million cost to add 3,000 seats to Heinz Field.
Allegheny County Judge Joseph James in June refused to issue an immediate order upholding the team’s claim that the authority must pay most of the money, but agreed to hold a trial on the matter Dec. 4.
The judge held another hearing Thursday to determine whether former authority director Steven Leeper could testify to his recollection of the lease negotiations – which Leeper has said favors the team’s position. But the judge didn’t immediately rule on that question after representatives from both sides, including Steelers President Art Rooney II, instead decided to try to settle the matter before the December trial.
Rooney declined comment, but Mark Hart, the Steelers’ director of strategic planning and development, is hoping an agreement can be hammered out in the next couple of weeks so the seats can be added by next season.
“I don’t think we’re at a stage where each of the parties can say what they’re willing to do at this point,” Hart said. “I think each party wants to have some good discussions.”
Authority attorney Walter DeForest said, “I don’t feel it’s appropriate at this juncture to get into a discussion of those points. The parties are hopefully going to sit down together and talk.”
The Steelers have argued new seats at the 12-year-old stadium qualify as a “capital improvement” needed to keep the team competitive with other NFL franchises, for which the team’s stadium lease requires the authority to pay two-thirds of the cost. But the authority has argued the seats are only a “modification” under the language of the lease, meaning the Steelers pay the entire bill.
The Steelers sued last year after an authority plan to use a parking surcharge to fund the expansion fell through.
On Thursday, Judge James told the Steelers he didn’t understand why the Steelers wanted to have Leeper clarify the lease when the team had earlier argued the document’s language was clearly in the team’s favor. James called the team’s positions “somewhat inconsistent.”