VisitPittsburgh renews push to attract big sports events like Super Bowl
March 16, 2017 12:33 PM
VisitPittsburgh is pushing for a 2 percentage point increase in Allegheny County's 7-percent hotel tax to fund the commission.
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
VisitPittsburgh wants to up its game. And for one, that means renewing a bid to create a sports commission to help attract big sporting events like the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament to Pittsburgh.
The local tourism group has reintroduced legislation in the state General Assembly to create the commission after a similar bill died at the end of the last session.
“We feel very strongly that this is our year,” Craig Davis, VisitPittsburgh’s CEO, said before the group’s annual meeting Thursday, where the theme was “It’s Time To Up Our Game.”
VisitPittsburgh is pushing for a 2 percentage point increase in Allegheny County’s 7 percent hotel tax to fund the commission.
However, even if the bill is approved, the group has agreed to impose only a 1.25 percentage point increase at this time at the request of the Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association, which has backed the proposal.
The tax hike would generate an estimated $6 million in the first year, with $1.3 million of that earmarked to fund the sports commission. Another $1.3 million would be used to help subsidize major sports events, especially those that generate a lot of direct spending.
Another $600,000 would go to the Pittsburgh Film Office, with the rest divvied up to help attract more conventions, to make community parks tournament-ready for sports-related events, and to help fund the Visit Monroeville tourism agency.
At this point, none of the money would go to fund improvements at Heinz Field, PNC Park or PPG Paints Arena, although Kevin Acklin, chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto, said that should be considered.
Mr. Peduto supports the creation of the commission. But, at the same time, “we would urge consideration that a portion of any additional revenue being generated to establish the commission be dedicated to help fund maintenance obligations for the three publicly owned stadiums and the convention center,” Mr. Acklin said.
The Pirates and the Steelers have been squabbling with the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority over funding for improvements they want to make to the SEA-owned venues.
However, county executive Rich Fitzgerald, who also supports creation of the sports commission, doesn’t believe any of the money raised by the proposed hotel tax increase should be used to fund work at Heinz Field or PNC Park.
He said money for those improvements should come from the stadiums themselves, through ticket surcharges, concessions, parking or other such revenues.
“We can figure out a way to generate money from the facilities or development [on the North Shore],” he said. “To take outside money ... I would be very reluctant to support that.”
Mr. Davis believes a commission would help the city to land bigger and better events. It also could be used to nurture and grow sports like soccer and hockey. More than 100 other cities in the U.S. have commissions.
Money generated by the increase could also help to backstop revenue guarantees some major sporting events require before committing to a city, Mr. Davis said.
The Steelers support the concept of a sports commission but haven’t determined yet whether the team will back the bill before the Legislature, spokesman Burt Lauten said.
“If done right, and if done in a way that allows the facilities in our region to compete with other cities for world class events, it could be very helpful,” he said.
The team has filed an application with the NFL seeking the Super Bowl in 2023 for Heinz Field, although landing the big game is considered a long shot.
Although VisitPittsburgh is hoping to have the legislation approved by the General Assembly before the end of the year, that is no sure bet.
State Senate Minority leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said there are some concerns within the chamber about the legislation.
Some members, he said, believe the commission’s funding should come from the VisitPittsburgh budget rather than a tax increase.
There are also concerns about the commission’s composition and questions about whether money should be directed for improvements at Heinz Field and PNC Park, he said.
Asked about the various concerns and possible funding for Heinz Field and PNC Park work, Mr. Davis replied, “These are complex issues. We are willing to meet and discuss any and all concerns that are being raised.”
At a press conference before the annual meeting, Mr. Davis also said:
• 2016 proved to be a “very good year” for bookings. Last year, the group booked 598 meetings, conventions, and sports events worth an estimated $204.8 million in direct spending. That is an increase from the 577 events booked in 2015 with an estimated $156 million in direct spending.
• Efforts to build a new hotel attached to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center have been put on the back burner because of the recent wave of hotel building Downtown. “Right now the marketplace is somewhat strained,” Mr. Davis said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.
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