Crowd pleaser: Let fans bear the cost of adding Heinz Field seats

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Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have sued the Sports & Exhibition Authority over funding for a 3,000-seat expansion at Heinz Field, a judge most likely will have to decide who must pay how much toward the project. There's a good road map for Common Pleas Judge Joseph James to follow in coming up with his answer.

In September, after months of wrangling, the team and political leaders worked out a tentative resolution that would have meant the bulk of the costs would be borne by users -- fans who buy tickets and park their cars at lots near the stadium.

The deal, which was referred to as an "agreement in concept," would have placed a $1 surcharge on Steelers tickets and a new charge of $2 to $3 for parking at lots around Heinz Field during home games. That was expected to raise enough money to pay the costs associated with a $20 million bond issue that the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County SEA would float. It would have covered just over half of the costs of the additional seats and other improvements included in the project.

Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking Corp., which manages most of the affected lots, objected to the surcharge. The greater obstacle, though, seems to be the Steelers' view that the SEA's share wasn't large enough.

Heinz Field is owned by the SEA, and the Steelers are its principal tenant under a long-term lease. The Steelers believe the terms require the SEA to pay two-thirds of the cost of any expansion that involves less than 10,000 seats in the south end zone. The SEA apparently disputes what its share should be.

This case is a contract dispute. No matter how problematic the lease may seem in retrospect, it is what it is, to use a phrase coach Mike Tomlin frequently utters.

Judge James has scheduled a meeting for Nov. 19. Unless the parties can work out an agreement beforehand, he'll have to render a decision that recognizes the value of adding seats both for the Steelers and for the city, which would benefit from the additional tax revenue from 3,000 more tickets, without asking taxpayers or the Allegheny Regional Asset District to pick up the tab.

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