Pittsburgh wants to recoup services costs from concert

Country music concerts at Heinz Field the past several summers have brought unruliness to the North Shore and left heaps of garbage in their wake. This year, the newly installed administration is promising to put a stop to it but is providing few details and scant explanation about why a plan was not put into place before Saturday’‍s blowout concert.

A Monday morning news conference, billed as a discussion of “initiatives to address city expenses incurred at special events,” confirmed only that Mayor Bill Peduto is looking into ways of forcing event promoters to pick up a larger share of the cost of city services required for these events. No details about implementation were provided. Even the legality of some ideas, including simply sending the event promoter a bill, were in question.

What chief of staff Kevin Acklin conveyed was that the Luke Bryan concert at Heinz Field and related festivities Saturday placed an unreasonable burden on public safety and public works teams. He said promoters and “people who are benefiting financially,” rather than taxpayers, should pay the price for “risky behavior.”

Mr. Acklin estimated that the cost to the city, including overtime for public works crews, totaled tens of thousands of dollars. Tim McNulty, Mr. Peduto’‍s spokesman, said Monday the mayor’‍s office still was calculating the precise cost. He also could not provide numbers of public works and public safety personnel who worked the concert, compared to last year’s Kenny Chesney performance. The widespread bad behavior and the sheer volume of refuse made national headlines and required 15 hours to clean up.

Problems at this year’‍s concert seemed less acute, Mr. Acklin said. Last year, an apparent lack of public restrooms led concert-goers to turn cardboard boxes into makeshift toilets. Still, Mr. Acklin added, the scene this year was a “disgrace.”

Jimmie Sacco, executive director of stadium management at Heinz Field, offered a different view.

“Although a small number of fans showed a lack of respect for the area, we are pleased that so many fans were well-behaved and enjoyed a beautiful night in our city,” Mr. Sacco said in a Monday statement.

Public safety officials responded to more than 300 incidents related to the concert, which drew 50,000 fans to the North Shore. Some arrived eight hours before the 6 p.m. start time for tailgating in nearby lots. Officers arrested seven people, broke up 15 fights and answered 154 calls to 911. City medics responded to 100 calls to 911 and transported 34 people to hospitals.

Mr. Acklin said potential remedies include limiting tailgating hours, curtailing river access and slapping a surcharge on event promoters. A deposit could also be set aside and then returned barring undue public nuisance and excess trash, he suggested.

He did not explain why those measures were not put into place before the concert. He said there were “some meetings that occurred” among officials from the Department of Public Works, the Sports & Exhibition Authority and Heinz Field.

Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking, said he knew of at least two meetings between city officials and those involved with the concert or parking lots prior to the Luke Bryan concert. He said he attended one meeting and thought public works and public safety representatives attended the other.

His firm took some steps Saturday to ward off the mess and other problems resulting from the Kenny Chesney concert last year, Mr. Stabile said.

He said Alco hired police officers to make rounds in the parking lots about 7:30 p.m. to remove people who weren’t attending the concert and about an hour after the show to make sure concert-goers weren’t loitering there afterward.

Alco placed 120 portable toilets in its North Shore lots this year, as opposed to 80 in 2013. This year it distributed the recycling bags it gave out last year and trash bags.

“While it was better than last year, it still needs significant improvement, so I don’t disagree with any of the criticisms that are out there,” said Mr. Stabile, who hired a sub-contractor to clean the lots after the country concerts. He said he is open to the city’s idea of discussing limits on tailgating.

The city is hoping to recover funds after-the-fact from Saturday’‍s concert.

“The intention of the mayor is to send them a bill,” Mr. Acklin said of the California-based Live Nation Entertainment, which promotes the country-western singer. The promoter declined to comment Monday. At the very least, such a move would entail “recognition of ‘‍hey, you came to our town, our town was trashed,’‍ ” Mr. Acklin said.

Mr. Acklin vowed to examine the contract with Live Nation, but Mr. McNulty said that was also not available Monday.

Philadelphia and Cleveland require event organizers and promoters to foot the bill for cleanup. Promoters in Cleveland have to provide their own cleanup crews and must detail these arrangements as part of the permitting process, according to a deputy press secretary in the mayor’s office.

In Philadelphia, a cost estimate for all city services is factored in prior to the issuance of a permit. The city began billing for special events services, including sanitation, about five years ago, said Robert Allen, assistant managing director for special events. Overtime costs have since diminished, he added.

In Oshkosh, Wis., where Mr. Bryan is scheduled to perform today, the Country USA Music Festival will cover the cost of cleanup, a city spokeswoman said. The city does incur significant costs for police and fire overtime during summer concerts, she added.

Mr. Acklin emphasized that any move to charge event promoters will be weighed against the salutary economic impact of big-ticket events.

“These special events and concerts are an economic generator for the city, but there has to be balance,” he said. “There are concerts in the city that don’t result in 300 police cars or mountains of garbage.”

On July 27, Heinz Field again will play host to a widely attended event, when AC Milan plays Manchester City in soccer. The day before, Jason Aldean is scheduled to perform at PNC Park. Mr. Acklin said measures could be in place before then, promising that the mayor is “willing to spend the political capital.” Any solutions will likely involve the Steelers, the Sports & Exhibition Authority and managers of neighborhood parking lots.

Isaac Stanley-Becker: istanley-becker@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3775. Twitter: @isb_isaac. Liz Navratil contributed. First Published June 23, 2014 12:00 AM

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