The Steelers say that a 3,000-seat expansion in the south end zone at Heinz Field -- now at the center of a court battle -- is needed to keep the stadium competitive with others in the National Football League.
In a formal lawsuit filed Friday, the team contends that Heinz Field ranks 25th out of 31 NFL stadiums in terms of seating capacity and that temporary seating must be added for some events.
The team has gone to court to force the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority to pay for two-thirds of the expansion. It bases its argument on a clause in the lease that requires the SEA to pay that much for a "designated expansion" of no more than 10,000 seats in the south end zone.
However, the SEA has argued that the expansion must first meet the definition of a capital improvement. That means the addition or modification must have been installed in at least half of all NFL stadiums, with at least 25 percent of the cost being paid for by federal, state or local governments.
In the lawsuit, the team maintained that the 3,000-seat addition qualifies as a designated expansion that is automatically deemed to be a capital improvement. As such, criteria relating to other stadiums and public funding "are inapplicable or are deemed to be automatically satisfied."
It charged that the SEA is contesting the proposed expansion because it doesn't have the money to fund its share and "is unwilling to take the necessary steps" to raise it.
The dispute ended up in court after a deal to finance the addition, estimated at $40 million, fell apart. Under a proposed agreement, the new seats 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.
Money raised through the surcharges would have supported a bond issue estimated at $20 million, which would have been the SEA's share. The Steelers would have paid for the rest. The bond issue would have been guaranteed by the Allegheny Regional Asset District.
SEA Executive Director Mary Conturo declined comment on the lawsuit Monday, saying the agency is still reviewing it and preparing a response.
In the complaint, the Steelers also are seeking $5 million in reimbursement for repairs to the Heinz Field control room, claiming they constituted capital repairs for which the SEA is responsible as the stadium's owner. It also wants the SEA to pay for a second scoreboard at the Heinz Field north end, saying it constitutes a capital improvement under the lease. The stadium is one of only three in the NFL with only one scoreboard, it said.
Mark Belko: email@example.com or 412-263-1262.