Play ball: In the SEA-Pirates spat, follow lease to the letter
January 8, 2017 12:00 AM
PNC Park in March 2001, first exhibition game.
By the Editorial Board
The Pittsburgh Pirates are threatening to sue the city-county agency that operates PNC Park if it won’t fund ballpark upgrades the team is seeking. It is ironic that the Pirates, often criticized over the years for not putting more money into player salaries, are angry that the Sports & Exhibition Authority won’t put more money into the ballpark.
However, this is purely a legal dispute, not time to reopen the debate over whether cities spoil their sports teams or taxpayers should subsidize stadium construction. All that matters here is proper interpretation of the lease between the Pirates and the authority.
The Pirates want the SEA to make the upgrades with a reserve fund from a surcharge on tickets. They’re seeking repairs to seats, painting, lighting, enhancements to the out-of-town scoreboard, carpeting and flooring for the Lexus Club and new carpeting in the suites.
Frustrated with what he considers to be SEA intransigence, Pirates president Frank Coonelly sent the agency a letter saying he has “no interest in such a demeaning or unproductive exercise, or relationship.” The SEA says it has no interest in giving him a blank check; it’s just trying to determine whether the lease requires it to make the changes or whether at least some of them ought to be financed by the team.
The SEA has a winning record in this kind of dispute. In 2012, the Steelers sued the SEA over funding of a 3,000-seat expansion and an additional scoreboard at Heinz Field. In the end, the team agreed to pay for the work.
Under the lease with the Pirates, the authority is responsible for capital repairs and capital improvements to PNC Park. However, the lease doesn’t say the authority has to approve everything the team wants; capital repairs, for example, are defined in part as modifications that are “prudent” and “have a useful economic life.” Capital improvements are defined in part as enhancements that keep the park up to date, maintain the team’s “relative economic position” in Major League Baseball and have been adopted in many other ballparks at some public expense.
The Pirates are responsible for everyday repairs at the park and say they go above and beyond, sometimes paying for extra work they’re not required to cover.
The SEA and Pirates should work through their disagreements without the cost, ill will and bad publicity that litigation would generate. A fair interpretation of the lease is in everyone’s best interest.
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