Pittsburgh Stadium Authority faces shortened lifespan

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Early Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Stadium Authority was looking at extending its own life by 35 years. But by late afternoon, the authority was losing years faster than a chain smoker on a high cholesterol diet.

Instead of acting on a 35-year extension at its meeting this afternoon, the stadium authority board now plans to vote on whether to keep going for a mere 15 years more.

Even that would be impressive for an agency created in 1964 to lead the construction of Three Rivers Stadium and then morphed into the city's overseer of development between Heinz Field and PNC Park. Despite its name, it never had anything to do with the construction of either of the stadiums that replaced Three Rivers.

The authority wanted a longer lease on life as part of its ongoing role in the North Shore development.

Mary Conturo, the authority's executive director, said the change of heart on how long that should be came after discussions with a representative for city Councilman Bill Peduto, who earlier Wednesday indicated his opposition to a lengthier extension that in one draft resolution was to be as much as 50 years.

Mr. Peduto, the Democratic nominee for Pittsburgh mayor and the prohibitive favorite in the November election, did not want to see the authority's existence extended beyond the time needed to pay off existing debt on the West General Robinson Street parking garage.

That, it turns out, would be December 2028, or 15 years.

"I think the authority played a critical role in building Three Rivers Stadium. It's played a very vital role in the redevelopment of the area between the stadiums. But once that debt ends, I think the authority's time should end as well," Mr. Peduto said.

Before the change of heart, Ms. Conturo had said the 35-year extension was needed so that the authority not only could pay off the $18 million in debt on the General Robinson Street parking facility but would have enough time to finance another garage it is required to build under the agreement with the Steelers and the Pirates to develop the land between PNC Park and Heinz Field.

"We want that option available," she said.

In a later conversation, she said she decided to reduce the time to 15 years after talking it over with representatives for Mr. Peduto. She added that the authority board could always vote on another extension if needed.

"We have been working with the stadium authority on this issue for several months," Mr. Peduto said. "As a result of those conversations, all involved agreed it made the most sense to extend the term of the authority to match the term of the debt."

In an earlier interview, Mr. Peduto, a former stadium authority board member who was removed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said he would like to see the agency become part of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority once the debt is paid off.

"At that point," Mr. Peduto said, "most of the land would have been developed, most of the plans would have gone through and anything that would need to be managed can be done so from the URA, as they do with other land they oversee."

In addition to overseeing the development of the land it owns between Heinz Field and PNC Park, the stadium authority also owns the West General Robinson Street garage and the surface parking lots between the two stadiums.

It has no role in running the stadiums and has virtually no staff, with its matters handled by the staff of the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority. Ms. Conturo also is the SEA's executive director.

The arrangement has led some to argue that the stadium authority should be merged with the SEA or at the least with another city authority. In fact, the city's intergovernmental cooperation authority recommended nine years ago that the stadium authority be abolished and its functions turned over to the SEA.

Mr. Peduto saw the URA as a better choice. He noted that the SEA, a joint city-county authority, owns facilities like PNC Park, Heinz Field and Consol Energy Center, while the URA oversees land just as the stadium authority does.

City Councilman Corey O'Connor, a stadium authority board member who was supportive of the 35-year extension, said he is comfortable with 15 years.

"I think we needed [an extension] up until a point. Whatever that number is, that's when we get rid of it or merge it," he said.

The stadium authority has not been without its share of controversy.

One of the development sites, the land on which Stage AE was built, appears to have become the subject of federal grand jury interest.

In late July, the grand jury reviewing city of Pittsburgh dealings heard testimony from former stadium authority chairwoman Debbie Lestitian. The Brookline attorney and accountant publicly clashed with Mr. Ravenstahl's administration in 2008 and 2009, when she opposed the extension of an option agreement under which the Pirates and Steelers were contracting out development to Columbus, Ohio-based Continental Real Estate Cos.

She also questioned the price the teams paid the authority for the land. The authority in the end got $2.69 million for two North Shore parcels.

Ms. Lestitian, through her attorney, said at the time that she was subpoenaed to testify about stadium authority matters. She has not commented since then.

Today's stadium authority vote on the extension won't be the last word. It also must go before city council for approval.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. Rich Lord contributed to this story.


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