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Work begins on PNC Park site

Wrecking ball starts demolition of Wesco building

Wednesday, September 30, 1998

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

And the Wesco building walls came tumbling down.

Well, they started to, anyway.

Kevin McClatchy, the Pirates' managing general partner, is interviewed by television reporters outside the Wesco building on the North Shore after the start of the demolition yesterday. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette) 

Yesterday morning, a crane operator swung a huge wrecking ball, painted to resemble a baseball, into the side brick wall of the former Westinghouse Electric Supply Co. on General Robinson Street.

As city, county, Pirates and labor union officials looked on, the demolition began on the first of several North Shore buildings that must be removed by April in order to assemble a "clean site" for the Pirates' new ballpark.

"This is the start of the process that will deliver to us PNC Park," said the Pirates' managing general partner, Kevin McClatchy, wearing a construction worker's hard hat. "Let's knock that sucker down."

The white outline of a baseball park "home plate" had been painted on the side of the Wesco building for the crane operator to use as a target when he swung the wrecking ball.

Most of his points of contact were low and outside, but they got the job done, punching a hole in the bricks.

During yesterday's demolition, Mayor Murphy and county Commissioners Mike Dawida and Bob Cranmer, the three main architects of Plan B, said they were committed to taking on those who opposed the project.

Plan B is the $809 million financial proposal to build baseball and football stadiums and enlarge the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

They said they would contact state legislators to counteract a recent letter that Commissioner Larry Dunn, who opposes the projects, sent them. Dunn had urged opposition to state funding for the two stadiums.

Gov. Ridge has pledged $75 million for each stadium, but it still isn't certain when the state will act or where it will get the money.

"I know what Larry is against, but I don't know what he's for," Murphy said. "Is he willing to risk the loss of our teams? I'm not willing to see them leave. It's not intellectually honest to tell people we don't need to put any public money into these stadiums, and the teams will still stay."

Murphy said he hopes the state will approve its share of the stadium funding by the end of the year, or early in 1999 at the latest. Then a bond issue of several hundred million dollars will be sold to start construction of the new baseball park and, soon afterward, the football stadium.

The baseball park is expected to open in April 2001, and the football stadium should open four months later, in August.

"We're facing a tough deadline," Murphy said. "But we've had a continuing series of (meetings) with legislators, and I'm confident they finally see Western Pennsylvania beginning to move forward again."

Dawida, a former state senator, said a lot of work can be done in Harrisburg in November, even though the Legislature is in session for only a few days.

Cranmer said he expects the Legislature to raise the ceiling on the state's borrowing capacity in order to fund the stadiums. There also will be money in the state package for projects in Philadelphia and other cities, in order to attract enough votes to pass the measure, he said.

McClatchy said he would leave it up to the politicians to decide how best to lobby for the state share of the funds but would talk to legislators if necessary.

In a related matter yesterday, lawyer Allen Brunwasser, a staunch foe of Plan B, filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the Stadium Authority from borrowing $14 million from PNC Bank to buy additional North Shore properties needed for the ballpark.

"The proposed PNC loan is an end-run around the established political process" as well as an effort to "circumvent voter opposition," Brunwasser said in the suit, which has not yet been scheduled for a court hearing.

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