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Friday, March 3, 2017

In Pittsburgh, City Leaders Reject Public Financing for Heinz Field Upgrades

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 1:06 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's Heinz Field - BROOK WARD, LICENSED UNDER THE FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS (HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC/2.0/)
  • Brook Ward, Licensed under the Flickr Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/)
  • Pittsburgh's Heinz Field
All over the country — but not in Cleveland — city leaders are finally getting wise to the pilfering schemes of billionaire sports owners. In Pittsburgh, for instance, just this week, the city's Sports and Exhibition Authority rejected the idea of public financing for enhancements at Heinz Field, home of the Steelers.

The enhancements, which would have included wifi access across the stadium, a new jumbotron and 2,000 additional seats, were being positioned as a lynch pin in a bid for an upcoming Super Bowl. But the city's Mayor and its Sports and Exhibition Authority said no.

"What they're asking for is tens of millions of dollars in public money, out of a fund that doesn't have nearly enough," Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. "They want to have a state-of-the-art wifi system for eight games a year. I want state-of-the-art wifi in every one of my schools for 180 days a year. I want to have the ability to reinvest in neighborhoods, not just reinvest in a Jumbotron."

As the Field of Schemes watchdog blog noted, that's not a perfect equivalence: the fund in question is reserved for capital improvements at Pittsburgh stadiums. (So it couldn't be used for schools.) But if the fund runs dry — if it's exhausted on a particularly expensive upgrade, e.g. — monies would then be siphoned from the city's general fund, so leaders have reason to be cautious.

Back home, Cuyahoga County Councilman Dale Miller made a similar observation during county council's most recent deliberations on the Q renovation plan. He suggested it was imprudent to create a reserve fund that would be used exclusively for debt service on the arena renovation when "we can't even pay for basic maintenance." (County financial adviser Tim Offtermatt had suggested earlier that the county Sin Tax, which was renewed in 2014, would likely be insufficient to cover maintenance costs at the three Cleveland stadiums in the future.)

Like in Cleveland, which has been promised an All-Star game if the Q is renovated, Pittsburgh had been attempting to lure the 2023 Super Bowl with the Heinz Field upgrade. Those attempts have halted for now.

Said Mayor Bill Peduto: "I would like [the Super Bowl], but it's not that important to me. I'd rather have quality schools, I'd rather have adequate staffing of police. I'd rather have safe streets."

Steelers officials have naturally expressed frustration in their comments. They said there was a "lack of cooperation" and called their relationship with their landlord (the Sports and Exhibition Authority) "no longer functional," but there has been no threat that the team will abandon the city if the upgrades aren't publicly financed. In fact, in 2013, after more than a year of litigation, Peduto and the SEA got the Steelers to pay an additional $2.1 million in annual rent to fund an earlier stadium expansion.

Field of Schemes approves of the elected officials' actions:

"Peduto and the stadium authority are doing their job," author Neil deMause argued, "which is to protect money controlled by the public from being used on anything that it doesn’t have to be."


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