Steelers’ Proposed Seat Expansion Sacked by Judge

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On Wednesday, June 19, 2013, a Pennsylvania judge rejected the Pittsburg Steelers’ request to force Heinz Stadium’s owner to pay for part of a proposed seat expansion.  The Steelers contended the Pittsburg-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority (Authority) was required to pay two-thirds of the 3,000 seat, $30 million dollar expansion.  The Steelers filed a partial summary judgment motion to resolve the expansion funding before trial.  The judge dismissed the motion saying that the Steelers failed to prove the requirements necessary by the plain language of their lease.

According to the Steelers, the lease requires the Authority to pay for a 10,000 seat or less “designated expansion.”  The Steelers contend these expansions are automatically deemed “capital improvements” and the Authority is required to pay two-thirds.

The Authority, a tax-payer funded organization, argued the expansion was only a “modification” because the team did not prove it was a “capital improvement.”  A “modification” would require the Steelers to pay the entire cost.  “The Steelers are not entitled to receive funding for a seating expansion simply by unilaterally notifying the [Authority] of their wishes,” the Authority said.

The judge, siding with the Authority, said the Steelers did not prove that the expansion met the three criteria to qualify as a “capital improvement.”  The Steelers must prove; (1) other NFL teams have made similar expansions with 25% of the cost paid by taxpayers; (2) the seats are “reasonably necessary for the team to remain economically competitive; (3) and the seats are needed to keep the stadium from going outdated compared to other NFL stadiums built between 1999 and 2004.

Currently, Heinz Stadium seats 65,050 fans.  The games constantly sell out, and the season-ticket waitlist is long. The 2008 Super Bowl champions are also hoping to make the Authority pay for other changes to the 12 year old stadium. The Steelers want a $5 million reimbursement for the addition of a new audio-visual control room and want the Authority to pay for a new $3.7 million scoreboard.

The team hoped to have the seats ready for the 2013 season.  If there is no resolution before September, the seats won’t be ready for the 2014 season either.

The decision is not a complete bar to forcing the Authority to pay; to prevail, the Steelers must prove the three criteria at a December 4th trial.  At the trial the court will also decide who will pay for the audio-visual room and new scoreboard.

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