Judge delays Steelers trial over Heinz Field seating

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The Pittsburgh Steelers and a city-Allegheny County authority are headed into overtime in a bid to finalize a deal to cover the cost of adding 3,000 seats to Heinz Field.

Common Pleas Senior Judge Joseph James has postponed a trial that was scheduled to start Wednesday until Jan. 27 to give the team and the Sports & Exhibition Authority more time to reach an agreement.

The two sides have been locked in a legal dispute for the past year over who will pay how much for the $30 million seat expansion. Since mid-September, they have been negotiating under the supervision of Common Pleas Judge Robert J. Colville.

"We continue to work and continue to have discussions," said county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who appoints some of the SEA board members.

"All I can say is we're still talking," SEA attorney Walter DeForest added.

In a statement Monday, Mark Hart, the Steelers' director of planning and development, said the postponement came at the request of the parties so that they could stick with negotiations "that may result in a resolution to allow the continuation of the projects that are being planned to expand and improve Heinz Field."

The team briefed the city planning commission last week on plans to install a 35-foot by 73-foot high-definition scoreboard, estimated to cost $3.65 million, on the northwest side of the stadium.

The fact they did so appeared to be an indication that the two sides were closer to a deal on funding for that project and the seat expansion.

Mr. Fitzgerald declined to say what kind of revenue streams the two sides were considering to pay for additional seats and the scoreboard project. The Steelers also are seeking reimbursement for the installation of a new control room at SEA-owned Heinz Field.

The team filed a lawsuit against the SEA last year over the expansion project after a deal to fund it through surcharges on tickets and game day parking around Heinz Field fell apart.

In the complaint, the team maintained that the SEA is responsible for funding two-thirds of the cost under a section of the Heinz Field lease that involves designated expansions of no more than 10,000 seats.

But the SEA argued that the team must first show that similar modifications have been made to at least half of all other stadiums, with at least a quarter of the cost covered by government, and meet other benchmarks for the expansion to be considered a capital improvement that qualifies for funding under the lease.

Judge James sided with the agency in a preliminary ruling in June.

Because of the ongoing litigation, the Steelers have said that the new seats won't be added until the 2015 season, assuming there's a deal in place to fund the construction.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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