Smizik: Rooney fishing for cash in Barden's pocket this time
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Having successfully reached into the pocket of the taxpaying public to help fund a $275 million football stadium that sits idle about 350 days a year, the Steelers, knowing a good thing when they see it, appear to be reaching for a slice of the potential treasure of casino boss Don Barden.
Barden, to his credit, is no more willing to turn over his money to the Steelers than was the public. It remains to be seen if he'll be any more successful than was the public in staving off the football team's attempts.
Art Rooney II, Steelers president, has not asked Barden for a cent, but his insistence on playing the role of obstructionist -- Barden's word, and a good one -- in the building of the casino leaves no other explanation.
No one wants a casino in his back yard, but it had to go somewhere and, at least from a location standpoint, the North Shore, west of Heinz Field, clearly was the best choice of the three plans. It might be understandable that the Steelers and Pirates were not happy with this choice. But it has been made, and the teams and the Carnegie Science Center, another entity looking at Barden as its rich uncle, need to accept the fact.
The casino already is behind schedule. The vast funds it is expected to generate, much of which will go toward tax relief and other public ventures, are needed desperately. Unless there exists some massive glitch, and game-day traffic on the North Shore does not come close to falling into that category, all sides need to back off and let Barden get down to the business of building his casino.
Understandably, there will be nagging problems with construction. The Carnegie Science Center, for example, has a right, as a next-door neighbor, to be apprehensive. In addressing those concerns, Barden is coming across as a good neighbor, willing to accommodate but, quite correctly, not willing to capitulate. The science center is coming across as the greedy neighbor who wants its every wish granted.
And so it is with Rooney, who has gone as far as threatening a lawsuit if Barden does not hold up the casino until a traffic study is completed.
Traffic around Heinz Field on game days has been a miserable mess since the day the building opened, and there has been no obvious attempt to ease that problem. Nor have the Steelers been overly concerned about the complaints of nearby residential neighborhoods, where fans park and, sometimes, behave in an uncivil manner.
Although the casino will bring more people to the North Shore, there is no guarantee that number will be substantial at critical times when games are played.
A person going to the casino on a Sunday or any other time a game is played would, if he had half a brain, avoid arriving three hours before the start of the game and leaving in the immediate two hours after it ends. Granted, not everyone going to the casino has half a brain, but the vast majority will.
Not only that, the casino will create parking with a garage that will hold about 4,100 cars. Barden has offered the Steelers partial use of that garage on game days.
The additional parking spaces, badly needed, should more than offset the amount of people senseless enough to attempt to get to or leave the casino in the teeth of a pre- or post-game traffic snarl.
More to the point, a very similar situation exists in St. Louis, where a casino will be in proximity to the football stadium, and the team is taking a far different outlook.
Bob Wallace, the St. Louis Rams' executive vice president and general counsel, said, "It hasn't been an issue that garnered much attention from our quarters." The Rams, according to Wallace, "have raised no objection to the casino."
The Rooney family always has been a tough negotiator in protecting its investments. But it's hard to believe it really wants to chase the casino off the North Shore. It's too late for that, and such an extreme position is out of character for them.
Barden is not so sure about that.
"They probably don't want anything to go there so they can develop the land between the two stadiums," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Mark Belko. "So I think they are selfishly motivated. They want to control development there and all the money that goes with it."
At one time, that probably was the goal of the Rooneys. It's doubtful, at this late date, they have such plans.
A more likely scenario is, they believe, if they put up enough of a fuss, Barden will part with a few million in innovations in and around the stadium, some of which will help the traffic flow.
As Barden said, "It's all about the money."
It usually is.
First Published May 26, 2007 10:48 pm