Steelers look to add seats to Heinz Field

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The Steelers may add more seats to Heinz Field, a move that would help address the seemingly insatiable demand for tickets, but could worsen the parking crunch in the steadily developing North Shore.

In part because of the potential additions, the Stadium Authority on Monday voted to spend $20,000 to study the parking situation on the North Shore.

Steelers co-owner and President Art Rooney II told authority officials that the team is studying whether Heinz Field's 65,000-person capacity could be expanded by several thousand.

"It's probably somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 [additional seats], and it would be in the south end zone," he said. That is the open side of Heinz Field, where the scoreboard sits, and he said the seats could be added without changing the footprint of the stadium.

Would they sell?

"Since we moved into Heinz Field, obviously we've been studying the demand for tickets," he said. "We feel satisfied at this point that there's certainly enough demand to consider expanding capacity."

Steelers games routinely sell out.

The addition this week of temporary seats for the National Hockey League's Jan. 1 Winter Classic will serve as something of a test run for the permanent expansion, he said. The architectural firm Populous, formerly called HOK Sport, is studying the proposed expansion. That firm designed both North Shore stadiums. It will probably take the team around a year to decide whether to add seating, and construction wouldn't occur until 2012, at the earliest.

If seating is added, it would "definitely be some general seating, reserve seating and possibly some club seating," Mr. Rooney said.

The Steelers lease of the stadium, owned by the joint city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, contemplates additions. This one would be privately funded, though some revenue from a surcharge on tickets could conceivably be used.

"The parking piece of the puzzle is an important component to it," Mr. Rooney said. "If we're going to have that many more seats, there's obviously got to be somewhere for them to park."

When city leaders helped to finance Heinz Field and PNC Park in the 1990s, they envisioned replacing seas of parking with development. Stadium Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo said that four of 12 parcels there have been developed, including the very recent opening of Stage AE and a Hyatt Place hotel.

That has made accommodating the rush of gamegoers and concertgoers "more complicated than it used to be," said Mr. Rooney. "Now that we've opened Stage AE, we are anticipating more events.

"We agree, we need to study what the needs are, what kinds of solutions may be out there," and whether they can be best met with surface parking or garages, Mr. Rooney said.

Plans for housing on the North Shore add another wrinkle. "Residential parking can't be shared parking," Mr. Rooney said.

The Stadium Authority built a 924-space garage on the North Shore, but it is far from certain that it would finance another such structure, said Ms. Conturo.

"It's likely that there are some amendments and modifications that are needed for the master plan over there," she said. "We don't want to do any of that until we understand the parking."

Alco Parking President Merrill Stabile, whose firm owns or manages most of the North Shore parking, said there is ample space on typical weekdays, but not enough to handle crowds for Steelers games, concerts and some Pirates games. The North Shore Connector subway extension should help, making it easier for fans to park Downtown and for commuters to use the stadium-area lots on weekdays.

"The problem is, you can't build your dining room for Thanksgiving Day," he said, meaning that it would be tough to finance another garage that would only be full a few times a year.

The Stadium Authority board voted unanimously to place a six-month forbearance on an option agreement with the Steelers and Pirates that governs development between the stadiums. Some former board members have argued that the teams did not meet deadlines in the agreement, and wanted to sell the remaining publicly owned parcels to the highest bidder, but those members were removed from the board by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

"It's likely that there are some amendments and modifications that are needed for the master plan over there," Ms. Conturo said. "We don't want to do any of that until we understand the parking."

Neighborhood groups sought to use past planning processes to influence the teams' chosen developer, Columbus, Ohio-based Continental Real Estate Co., to enter into community benefits agreements.

"The entire process really made a public appearance of openness, where you go and make comment, but no impact," said Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh United, which led the push for a community benefits agreement under the banner of North Side United. "The community was really disappointed."

He did not know whether there would be a push to get more community input into any new North Shore plans.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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