Published April 10, 1998
Murphy plans to buy ballpark site this year
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Property needed for the Pirates' new ballpark should be acquired by the end of the year, with buildings on the site demolished soon afterward, Mayor Murphy said yesterday.
In a briefing to City Council, he said the goal was to have the North Shore site at the end of the Sixth Street Bridge cleared by next spring or summer at the latest. Then construction of the $228 million ballpark will begin, with the park ready for opening day in April 2001.
Murphy has talked with the 100 senior citizens who live in a six-story high-rise off Federal Street, as well as with residents of nearby rowhouses, all of which will have to be bought and razed. ''We've found nobody who is absolutely resistant to moving,'' he said.
The mayor said it might be necessary for the city to build a high-rise nearby for the seniors, or to provide financial assistance to help them move to new quarters on the North Side or elsewhere.
He said a ''short-term borrowing,'' either through a bond issue or a bank loan, would probably be necessary to get the cash needed to begin the North Shore property acquisition.
Ultimately, the short-term loan will be replaced by a 25- or 30-year bond issue financed with county sales tax and hotel tax revenues, along with private funds from the sports teams and state funds.
The baseball field is one of three major projects contained in Plan B, an $803 million city-county plan that would finance the ballpark, a $233 million football stadium and a $267 million expansion of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
As envisioned by Murphy and county Commissioners Bob Cranmer and Mike Dawida, the plan will be financed with $305 million in local funds, $328 million from the state and $170 million in private funds.
Other elements of yesterday's update included:
As many a six new hotels are possible ''within walking distance of the convention center'' once the expansion is complete, Murphy said. This could include a new Hyatt Hotel on Ninth Street.
Murphy wants a ''high-tech theme park'' to be built on the North Shore between the new football and baseball stadiums. He said such privately owned, for-profit ventures were being proposed by Sony Corp., Disney and Lego, the toy maker, and featured virtual reality exhibits and other high-tech entertainment. He said it would represent a ''first-day attraction'' that would bring tourists to Pittsburgh, much as Sea World does for Ohio and ''The Phantom of the Opera'' for Toronto.
The Allegheny Regional Asset District board will meet within a month to act on a city-county request for $13.4 million annually to help float the bonds needed to build the three big projects. The RAD money will be combined with county hotel tax revenues to pay debt service on the construction bonds.
The $305 million pledged by the city and county for Plan B is a ''ceiling'' and the local share won't go higher.
The goal is to have all three projects under construction by the summer of 1999 and finished by 2001.
The three facilities will be owned by some type of public entity, such as a new stadium or auditorium authority, but each ballpark will be managed and maintained by the team that plays there.
RAD board action could come before the conclusion of the current talks with the Pirates and Steelers on the private contribution for Plan B, but there is no way the public sector will pay the total cost of the projects.
New sites are being sought for the River Rescue Center, which is now beside the Sixth Street Bridge on the North Shore but must be razed to make way for the new Pirates park.
The $35 million pledged by the Pirates and the $50 million pledged by the Steelers represent ''starting points'' for the private money that will be spent on the new stadiums. Additional private funds will be sought. They might be either through direct monetary contributions or by the teams pledging to pay for all cost overruns on the stadium projects.
Acquisition of property just west of 10th Street, which is needed for the convention center expansion, could begin as early as May. Demolition of the present PNC Bank operations center at 10th Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard can't begin until December 1999 at the earliest, however, because the bank first has to build its new Downtown operations center at First Avenue and Grant Street.
Talks with the two teams about long-term leases at the new stadiums are going well, but probably won't be concluded for several months.