Late score: The Steelers seat agreement is fair to the public

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Three thousand football fans soon will be able to buy hard-to-come-by seat licenses and tickets for Pittsburgh Steelers home games. The team’s long-delayed plans to add end zone seats and a second scoreboard at Heinz Field are moving forward, thanks to an agreement approved Tuesday by the public agency that owns the facility.

The action by the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority is good news for the NFL franchise and supporters of the black and gold, but the real winner in the $37.8 million expansion is the public. That’s because the team will use ticket and seat-license revenue to cover the project’s cost, a reversal of the Steelers’ initial strategy.

For a year and a half, the Steelers have been in court trying to get the authority to pick up two-thirds of the expansion cost. A preliminary court ruling last year suggested the team would not prevail in its argument, which led to the successful negotiations between the Steelers and city and county officials.

The agreement calls for the SEA to float a bond for the expansion, with the team paying the authority $2.1 million a year to cover the cost of that issue. The team also agreed to pay for any overruns and to put a $1 surcharge on each ticket starting in 2015 to beef up its capital improvement fund for the stadium.

The SEA agreed only to pay the team back $2 million of the $5 million it spent repairing the Heinz Field control room and to use its influence to persuade the Allegheny Regional Asset District to start a long-term fund for capital improvements at all four of the SEA’s facilities — Heinz Field, PNC Park, Consol Energy Center and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

If the RAD board agrees, in 2019 after its $800,000 annual payments on Civic Arena debt end, the same amount of money will be funneled into the multi-facility improvement fund. The Steelers would be entitled to tap 15 percent of that, under conditions still to be worked out. Likewise, agreements must be developed for the Pirates and the Penguins.

This seems like a smart way to plan ahead, given that the two stadiums and the convention center are more than a decade old and maintenance costs will be increasing.

It’s important for public officials to keep the costs of operating the sports venues off the backs of taxpayers and to work out agreements with all the teams that are in their best interest. The Heinz Field agreement is a big play in the right direction.

 

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