Stadium's transition from Pitt to Steelers a tall task
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The teams facing the biggest battles at Heinz Field this weekend might not be the ones doing the blocking and tackling.
They probably will be the ones doing the sweeping, the hauling, the hanging, the scrubbing and the multitude of other tasks associated with transforming Heinz Field from the lair of the Pitt Panthers to the domain of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the stands, on the field and in the parking lots, crews probably will have less than 12 hours to make the transition from the Pitt-Notre Dame game tonight to the Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals game early tomorrow afternoon.
With the televised college clash likely to end about 11:30 tonight (assuming no overtime) and the gates for the pro game to open at 11 a.m. tomorrow, it might be a stadium manager's version of the two-minute drill.
"We've done it in the past but not in this short of a window," said Jimmie Sacco, executive director of stadium management at Heinz Field. "In less than 12 hours we're playing another football game."
The window is so tight that some fans attending both games have asked whether they can keep their cars in stadium parking lots overnight, said Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking Corp., which manages the lots at Heinz Field. The answer is no.
Adding to the challenge is that both games are sellouts, with more than 66,000 fans, including standing room, expected for the Pitt match-up and 65,000 plus for the Steelers game.
Mr. Sacco said he will deploy "probably 400 to 500 people" at Heinz Field after the final whistle of the Pitt game.
He is confident that Heinz Field will be able to move from one game face for another without so much as a fumble. After all, there have been back-to-back games at Heinz Field in the past, even if not within such a tight turnaround.
And before that, at Three Rivers Stadium, it was not that uncommon to have to convert the playing surface from baseball to football or vice versa in a short shift or two.
The weekend also will be a big one for Aramark, the stadium concessionaire. It will have about 1,600 people working the two games. It typically would have about 800 people for a Steelers game and 500 to 600 for a Pitt game.
"We're going to do in 10 hours what we normally would do in a full week," said George Meehan, general manager of Aramark at Heinz Field.
Over the course of the weekend, Aramark expects to sell 6,500 pounds of wings, 14,000 hot dogs, 4,000 hamburgers, 6,000 Primanti sandwiches, 9,000 pizzas, 15,000 servings of nachos, 28,000 fountain sodas, and 12,000 soft pretzels.
He said the concessionaire relishes the opportunity this weekend.
Perhaps the bigger worry might be in the parking lots, which will open at 8 a.m. Sunday after the late Saturday night game. That doesn't give crews much time to sweep the lots and remove the trash and debris.
To expedite matters, Alco wants all Pitt-Notre Dame fans out of the lots about 30 minutes after the game ends, Mr. Stabile said. Police, he added, "will discourage anyone from lingering."
Mr. Stabile said he's less concerned about the Sunday game because the Steelers season ticket holders who park at Heinz Field are familiar with the routines and challenges. That may not be the case with Pitt, whose crowds tend to vary from week to week, he said.
"The Pitt-Notre Dame game, unfortunately, is going to be amateur night as far as the parking business is concerned," he said.
The weekend's biggest winners might be outside of Heinz Field. All of the Downtown hotels and many in the suburbs are sold out tonight and were close to full last night, said Craig Davis, vice president of sales and marketing for VisitPittsburgh, the tourism group.
The agency estimates the two football games and a Penguins hockey game tonight will generate a "conservative" $18 million in economic impact in ticket, hotel, food, beverage and parking spending.
At least part of that is due to the attraction of Notre Dame, which has a large fan base across the country, not dissimilar to the Steelers.
"Wherever they play it's a huge boom to whatever city they're playing in. They have a national following that will stay overnight," Mr. Davis said.
In fact, the last time Pitt sold out at Heinz Field was in 2005 when the Fighting Irish played in the season opener.
"There's a lot of color, a lot of history [in the rivalry] that makes this an attractive game whenever we play," said. E.J. Borghetti, Pitt associate athletic director.
First Published November 14, 2009 12:00 am