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SEA director found close at hand
Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Sports & Exhibition Authority didn't reach far to find its new executive director.

 
 
Mary K. Conturo
Age: 49

Residence: Squirrel Hill

Education: Graduate, Chatham College, 1976; University of Pittsburgh School of Law, 1979.

Professional experience: Special counsel, Sports & Exhibition Authority, January 2001 to present; partner, Kutak Rock, March 1994 to December 2000; Pittsburgh solicitor, February 1990 to January 1994; partner, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, July 1986 to January 1990; associate and partner, Baskin, Flaherty, Elliott & Mannino, March 1981 to June 1986; associate, Lynch, Lynch, Carr & Kabala, September 1979 to March 1981.

   
 

Authority board members yesterday appointed Mary Conturo, the city-county agency's special counsel, to replace Stephen Leeper, who has resigned to take a development job in Cincinnati.

Conturo, 49, served as Pittsburgh solicitor from 1990 through 1993 under former Mayor Sophie Masloff. At the authority, she has handled the legal issues involving the high-profile construction of PNC Park, Heinz Field and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Authority board Chairman Mark Schneider said after yesterday's vote that members were looking for continuity in finding a replacement for Leeper.

"I think that was very important," he said. "Clearly we wanted to not drop the ball while we're trying to get some of these key things done."

Conturo will be paid $103,000 from the sports authority, but her total salary is expected to hit $120,000 if, as expected, she also becomes head of the city Stadium Authority. That's slightly less than Leeper was paid; he received $130,000 for the dual roles.

Although the stadiums and the convention center have been completed, Conturo is taking over a job loaded with unfinished business. The authority is still searching for funding to build a headquarters hotel Downtown next to the convention center, and to erase the center's operating deficit, expected to be $1.6 million this year.

Conturo said both will be priorities.

Other priorities will be completing riverfront parks on the North Shore and outside of the convention center and shepherding development between the two stadiums, which is off to a good start with the construction of the Equitable Resources and DelMonte headquarters buildings. The authority still is trying to arrange financing, however, for a new 1,240-space North Shore garage, seen as a critical need by the Pirates and the Steelers to replace parking spaces taken for development.

Conturo's appointment has the support of both Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, the two politicians who select authority board members.

Onorato, who was a city councilman when Conturo was city solicitor, said the attorney has the "expertise and background" for the job.

"We need right now someone with a strong public finance background," he said, adding that Conturo's expertise is in that area. "Here's an individual who understands public financing and who understands the [authority]."

Onorato said his priorities for Conturo are to deal with the operating deficit, to secure financing for the hotel and to find $18 million to pay for work to complete the convention center.

The authority had been planning to borrow $20 million to cover the deficit and to pay for the work, which has been completed. Onorato also included both in funding requests he presented to Gov. Ed Rendell earlier this week.

"[Conturo's] very competent. She has expertise in these areas. I'm more than confident that she has the ability to take care of what we need to do," Onorato said.

During an interview after her appointment, Conturo said the authority needed a third-party funding source to reduce the operating deficit.

Leeper originally pushed for a car rental tax to help close the gap and to help pay for the hotel, but that got nowhere. He has since been lobbying the Legislature to use slot machine revenue, if such gambling is approved in Pennsylvania, for both.

Onorato also has been considering the idea of capping the revenue the Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau receives from the hotel tax to free up more funds to apply against the deficit.

Conturo would not say if she supported one idea over the others.

"We would welcome any of the three," she said.

During her career, Conturo, a University of Pittsburgh School of Law graduate, has worked for several law firms, including Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott and Kutak Rock.

Leeper will be leaving April 1 to become president and chief executive officer of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., a private, nonprofit corporation created to accelerate development in that city.

First published on March 11, 2004 at 12:00 am
Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.
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