The Steelers want to add 3,000 more seats to Heinz Field. The seats would be located in the south end zone underneath the scoreboard.
By Mark Belko Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After months of talks, the Steelers and local political leaders have negotiated the framework of a deal to finance the construction of an additional 3,000 seats at Heinz Field.
The expansion would be funded by a $1 increase in an existing surcharge on Steelers tickets and a new parking surcharge of roughly $2 to $3 at lots around Heinz Field during home games under the "agreement in concept."
Money raised from the surcharges would support a bond issue, estimated at $20 million, to be floated by the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the stadium owner, to finance its share of the construction, projected at $38 million to $39 million.
The rest of the money would come from the Steelers and other private sources. The team likely will sell personal seat licenses -- a fee a fan pays for the right to buy season tickets -- to fund part of its share. The Steelers raised an estimated $40 million through the sale of such licenses before Heinz Field opened in 2001 and used that money toward their $123 million share of the stadium's $281 million cost.
An additional quirk in the deal involves the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which apparently will serve as the guarantor of the bonds, although it has yet to be presented with a formal proposal. No RAD money would be used to finance any part of the construction.
RAD currently provides $13.4 million a year to pay off the debt on Heinz Field, PNC Park and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The Steelers have been negotiating with the SEA, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for much of the year over how to pay for the construction of the seats, which would be built in the south end zone near the scoreboard.
While Mr. Fitzgerald said Thursday that he did not know the exact terms of the proposed agreement, he said the details, as described to him by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, were "in the ballpark."
"We're moving forward on this. There have been some significant talks throughout the summer regarding the Steelers' desire to add the seats and an additional scoreboard, and we've been working with them to find a solution," he said.
"It will be a good thing. It will add to the vitality of the region and the North Shore and it will allow more people to participate in the excitement of the Steelers' success."
SEA executive director Mary Conturo declined comment. Steelers officials were unavailable for comment.
Under the team's lease at Heinz Field, the SEA is obligated to pay two-thirds of the cost for a "designated expansion" involving no more than 10,000 seats in the south end zone. The team is responsible for one-third of the cost.
The existing ticket surcharge, up to $3 on a Steelers ticket, raises more than $1.5 million a year. The money goes into a capital reserve fund used to finance repairs and improvements at the stadium. Under the proposed funding package, some of that money also may be used to help pay for the seats.
Officials are hoping to finalize a deal within the next month in order to start construction after the current season. The Steelers want to have the new seats in place by next season.
They have yet to finalize the pricing for the tickets. The seats will be marketed first to those on the lengthy waiting list for season tickets. Heinz Field currently holds 65,050 people and routinely sells out for home games.
As part of the new project, the Steelers plan to raise the plaza at the south end of the stadium, build a club level and revise the entry gates. They also intend to add a new scoreboard at the north end so fans in the new seats can see replays and other material during games.
It will mark the second expansion since Heinz Field opened. The team added more than 700 club seats in the north end zone before the 2006 season.