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Plan B draws fire at RAD meeting

Taxes shouldn't pay athletes, critics say, yet teams may leave

Wednesday, April 29, 1998

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Plan B was caught in a crossfire last night during its first major public airing before the Regional Asset District board, one of the agencies that is being asked to provide crucial funding for the plan.

One angry speaker was Harry Liller, a disabled veteran from Bethel Park, who said using taxpayers to underwrite new ballparks and stadiums for rich athletes and team owners was "disgusting."

"Giving tax funds to arrogant and ignorant people like Barry Bonds stinks," Liller said.

Allegheny County Commissioner Larry Dunn called the use of county sales tax dollars for the Pirates and Steelers "a giveaway to the team owners. Taxpayers don't want their money to be used for stadium construction."

Countering them was Joe O'Toole, president of the 400-member stadium workers union Local 508, who had fond recollections of former mayors David L. Lawrence and Richard S. Caliguiri and the city's first two renaissances.

"They weren't stopped by the naysayers and the narrow-minded-thinking groups, and thank goodness they weren't," he said.

The three were among about 50 speakers who addressed the RAD board about Plan B, an $803 million city-county proposal to build separate stadiums for the Pirates and Steelers as well as expand of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The RAD board is being asked to provide $13.4 million a year for 30 years, starting in 2000, to help float bonds that will pay for the stadiums and the convention center expansion.

The board will probably make its decision the week of May 18, RAD board Chairman David Matter said after the four-hour hearing in City Council chambers.

As of now, there is one vacancy on the seven-member board, which could prove to be a key point. Under RAD rules, in order for the Plan B funds to be approved, a majority of at least six of seven members is needed.

That means, as things now stand, all six board members would have to vote for Plan B. The vacancy is to be filled by the county commissioners, but it isn't known if the seat will be filled before the vote is taken.

The RAD board is likely to act before lease negotiations with the Pirates and Steelers are completed. The lease talks deal with exactly how much private funds go into Plan B.

Two of Plan B's three primary architects, county Commissioner Bob Cranmer and Mayor Murphy, urged the board to approve the funding.

"This isn't just about building stadiums or a convention center," Cranmer said. "It's about creating a dynamic energy and showing the rest of the country that we are taking charge of our destiny."

Plan B has already started to move, they said, noting that Gov. Ridge is coming here tomorrow and is expected to announce that the state will provide up to $149.3 million for the convention center expansion.

"Carpe diem -- seize the day," Murphy said. "We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do that. It takes courage to move forward."

But Murphy's argument didn't impress John Raucci of Churchill, an opponent of the RAD funding for the stadiums.

Referring to the lopsided defeat of the Regional Renaissance Initiative, a referendum on a sales-tax increase for stadiums, he said, "Voters did seize the day last November. They said no."

Plan B opponents outnumbered supporters by about a 2-to-1 margin last night.

Opponents generally said tax dollars should not be used to subsidize profit-making businesses like the Pirates and Steelers. They also denounced Cranmer and Murphy for ignoring the results of last fall's referendum.

"There are two kinds of people in the world -- those who can count and those who can't," said Plan B opponent Greg Yoest of Ross. "There is no public consent for using RAD funds for stadiums."

"I'm proud to say I pay my own way," said North Side businessman Paul Adametz, a Plan B foe. "The Pirates and Steelers should pay their own way."

Much of the support for Plan B last night came from officials whose companies do business with the Steelers and Pirates and from union officials whose workers are employed by Three Rivers Stadium.

Supporters of Plan B, however, said the Steelers and Pirates gave Pittsburgh a national presence and provided role models for youths and jobs for the region.

Among Plan B's supporters was David Caliguiri, the son of the late mayor, who said the project was needed to keep young people from moving away from the region.

"Some of my friends have moved to Denver or San Francisco or Cleveland. Even Cleveland. That has got to stop. It's a shame," Caliguiri said.

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