Steelers plan to sue in Heinz Field lease dispute
October 31, 2012
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers are headed to court over a lease dispute with the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority that could jeopardize a plan to add 3,000 more seats at Heinz Field.
The team, through PSSI Stadium LLC, filed notice of its intent to sue Tuesday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
In dispute is a clause in the Steelers' lease at Heinz Field that the team believes obligates the SEA to pay two-thirds of the cost of a "designated expansion" involving no more than 10,000 seats in the south end zone. The team would be responsible for the other third.
But Mark Hart, the Steelers' director of strategic planning and development, said the SEA is refusing to pay that much in its latest financing proposal for the seats.
"Despite what we believe are clearly defined obligations in the lease, they have yet to acknowledge their full responsibility and obligation for their funding share," he said. "The Steelers have committed to more than our fair share. Quite honestly, most of the funding is coming from the Steelers and our fans. For them to not recognize a plan and a mechanism in the lease that we've known for over a decade now is troubling."
In a statement, Steelers president Art Rooney II said, "We are extremely disappointed that the SEA has not given timely assurance of its intention to honor our lease for our Heinz Field expansion. This state-of-the-art expansion assures that Heinz Field would remain the first class facility our fans expect and deserve. The SEA is our landlord and it is not holding up its end of the lease."
As a result, he said, the Steelers "have been left with no alternative other than to go to court to enforce the terms of our lease."
In September, the team and local political leaders had worked out the framework of a deal to use ticket and parking surcharges to help pay for the project, estimated at $38 million to $39 million.
But because no deal has been finalized, the Steelers last week canceled an order for the steel needed for the construction. Mr. Hart said there is now no way the team can get the new seats in place in time for the start of the 2013 season. The longer the dispute goes on, the less chance there is of having the project done any time next year, he said.
SEA executive director Mary Conturo said the agency and its legal counsel are "comfortable in our legal position" in terms of the SEA's obligations under the lease.
"The authority has been in discussions with the Steelers since April about appropriate ways to fund this project," she said. "We've been working with the Steelers and legal and financial advisers to find a solution which is consistent with our legal obligations and with the reality of the SEA's capacity to incur debt and to generate income."
Ms. Conturo added that she remained hopeful that the parties would continue to talk and be able to reach an agreement.