It's all about DE-fense for the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority in its battle against the Steelers over the cost of installing 3,000 more seats at Heinz Field.
In a court appearance Monday, the SEA disputed the team's contention that the authority is obligated to pay two-thirds of the cost for the expansion, arguing that the project doesn't meet the definition of a capital improvement under the Steelers' lease.
To be defined as an expansion, the addition or modification must have been installed in at least half of all National Football League stadiums with at least 25 percent of the cost being paid for by federal, state or local governments, said Walter P. DeForest, the SEA's attorney.
"It is important to make clear that my client is not in breach of the lease," he told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James.
At the same time, the Steelers have upped the ante in the battle, also demanding to be reimbursed $5 million for installing a new control room at the stadium. In addition, the team wants the SEA to pay the full $3.65 million cost of adding a new scoreboard to the north side of Heinz Field.
Mr. DeForest argued the SEA's obligations regarding the control room rest on the project being considered a capital improvement or repair. In the SEA's judgment, it is neither, he said.
Kevin J. Lucas, an attorney for the Steelers, said the team disagreed with the SEA's interpretation of the lease and will contest it in court.
The Steelers have contended that the Sports & Exhibition Authority is obligated to fund two-thirds of the cost of the seats under a clause that involves a "designated expansion" of no more than 10,000 seats in the south end zone.
But Mr. DeForest said the expansion first must meet the definition of a capital improvement.
The bid to add 3,000 seats, estimated to cost nearly $40 million, ended up in court after a deal to finance it fell apart, prompting the Steelers to file a notice of their intent to sue.
Under the proposed deal, the expansion would have been financed through a $1 increase in an existing surcharge on Steelers tickets and a new parking surcharge of $2 to $3 at lots around Heinz Field during home games.
Alco Parking Corp. President Merrill Stabile, whose company manages the lots around Heinz Field, objected to the surcharge.
Money raised from the surcharge would have supported a bond issue, estimated at $20 million, that would have constituted the SEA's share. The bonds would have been guaranteed by the Allegheny Regional Asset District. The Steelers would have been responsible for the other $18 million to $19 million in funding.
Monday's comments from the attorneys came after a meeting with Judge James to discuss the pending lawsuit. It could set up a court battle as bruising as a Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game.
"I believe we will be strongly defending this case because the Sports & Exhibition Authority has not violated the lease in its judgment, and we're hopeful the court will ultimately agree with that," Mr. DeForest said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.