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Steelers unveil plans for 5,600-seat amphitheater

North Shore filling up

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The future look of vacant North Shore land between the stadiums came into greater focus yesterday, as the Steelers unveiled plans to build a $10 million, 5,600-seat, fabric roof amphitheater adjacent to Heinz Field.

The proposed amphitheater between Heinz Field, left, and PNC Park.

And in another major step, the city planning commission approved a blueprint for an office/residential/retail development to be built by Continental Real Estate Co. of Columbus, Ohio. These buildings will stretch from the new amphitheater west to PNC Park.

Mayor Tom Murphy said the promise of North Shore development -- made by city officials over 30 years ago when Three Rivers Stadium opened -- is finally being fulfilled.

Continental plans to begin work on from one to four new buildings by spring or summer. Adjacent to the new office buildings and residences will be three new parking garages built by the Sports & Exhibition Authority to go with an existing 1,100-space surface parking lot.

At a news conference yesterday, Steelers Vice President Art Rooney II said his goal is to begin construction on the privately financed amphitheater in the spring.

He wants to have the facility, which will have tiered seating and be used for diverse kinds of musical concerts, ready for operation by May 2004.

The planning commission also heard amphitheater details yesterday but said it won't take action on the matter until January.

The new amphitheater, added to new stores, taverns, restaurants, offices and residences planned by Continental, "will add exciting new venues to the North Shore," Murphy said.

Jimmy Sacco, general manager of Heinz Field, said the new amphitheater will compete for concerts with the white-roofed Amphitheater at Station Square across from the Point.

The new facility will be covered with a two-tiered roof made of a Teflon fabric, similar to what's been used for the rear portion of the roof at the city's new convention center.

One section of the amphitheater roof will be removable for open-air concerts in good weather, said its designer, Charlotte, N.C. architect David K. Wagner, a former Pittsburgher.

The amphitheater will face Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights across the Ohio River. It will have open sides and "flexible seating," meaning about half the seats can be removed for smaller concerts. The first few rows of seats, the ones closest to the stage, will actually be sunk about 10 feet, to help keep the sound from escaping, Wagner said.

Adjacent to the amphitheater will be a "festival area" for outdoor activities or tailgating parties.

The amphitheater plan won praise from I.N. Rendall Harper Jr., board chairman of the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns the two stadiums, and Lisa Schroeder, director of the Riverlife Task Force, a privately funded group seeking to improve the city's riverfronts.

"The design is innovative and will create an exciting new venue on the North Shore, across from the Point," said Schroeder.

The financing for the amphitheater will be private, Rooney said, avoiding the type of controversies that accompanied the building of PNC Park and Heinz Field, which involved large amounts of public funding.

Rooney expected that naming rights would be sold to help raise funds for the amphitheater, but couldn't say yet how much the rights would cost. The Steelers sold naming rights for the football stadium for $57 million over 30 years to the H.J. Heinz Co.

He said the Steelers were working with unnamed concert promoters to develop the new facility.

In addition to the 5,600-seat outdoor amphitheater, a permanent building will be erected at General Robinson Street and a new, unnamed street running north-south. The building will have up to 1,000 seats in an indoor nightclub and concert venue.

Susan Brandt of the Mount Washington Community Development Corp., John DeSantis of the Allegheny West Civic Council and Phyllis Armstrong of the Gateway Towers condominium yesterday all expressed concern about the noise from the new concert facility

DeSantis, who has clashed with the Steelers about noise coming from games at Heinz Field, urged the planning commission not to act on the new amphitheater until the Steelers live up to previous commitments to hold down the stadium noise.

Under city noise ordinances, stadium-related noise was not supposed to exceed 65 decibels in the surrounding neighborhoods, but DeSantis said it often reaches 75 to 90 decibels.

"People in their homes can hear every word said [over the public address system] in the stadium," he said. He urged the commission, "Tell the Steelers first to clean up their laundry from the stadium before you even talk about this amphitheater project."

Brandt said that up to $265 million in new housing is planned for the western end of Grandview Avenue, and frequent noise from the proposed concert venue will hurt those plans.

She said residents aren't so much worried about noise from a single event, such as one football or baseball game, "but rather a constant barrage of sound coming from Station Square, the Point, the football and baseball fields and [soon] the space between the fields."

She urged the commission to tell the Steelers to do a sound study "so the sound goes down the West End Valley and dissipates rather than bouncing off the end of Grandview Avenue."

Sacco denied that stadium-related sound exceeds city ordinances. "Heinz Field is in compliance with city noise limits," he said.

As for the master plan for the North Shore developed by Continental of Columbus, Ohio, the design of each office or residential building isn't known yet.

City planner Bob Reppe said, "This will set the stage for Continental to go back to the planning commission on a case-by-case basis for approval of individual buildings."

Continental officials have said they expect to start construction on one to four new buildings next spring or summer. Four office buildings, with retail stores or restaurants in the first floor, are to be built between North Shore Drive and the Allegheny River.

Those structures will be five or six stories high, with other buildings, farther back from the river, up to 10 stories high. Structures closer to Heinz Field will be mainly for offices, while buildings closer to PNC Park will be residential.

DeSantis applauded the development plan, but didn't like the "sea of asphalt," the 1,100-space parking lot just north of Continental's area, used for daily commuter parking and tailgating on football game days. He hoped that area also would be developed one day.


Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.

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