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PNC gets to name Pittsburgh's new ballpark

Wednesday, August 05, 1998

By Tom Barnes and Dan Fitzpatrick, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

PNC Bank wants to coin the name for the new Pirates ballpark. But corporate officials will keep it a secret for one more day.

At a news conference tomorrow morning at the North Shore site, officials from PNC, the Murphy administration and Allegheny County are expected to announce that the bank will pay for the right to put its name on the new $228 million ballpark.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also is expected to attend.

Terms for the deal haven't been disclosed, but it's likely to be for 25 to 30 years, at perhaps as much as $1.4 million a year. That could amount to as much as $42 million -- more than the $40 million the Pirates have pledged to contribute to the new ballpark.

No one was talking yesterday -- not PNC, the Pirates or city or county officials.

"It's not something I can either confirm or deny," PNC spokesman Jonathan Williams said.

"At this time, the Pittsburgh Pirates have no comment on this issue," said Steve Greenberg, team vice president for new ballpark development and communications.

Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy has sent a letter to some city officials, including members of the Public Auditorium Authority and the Stadium Authority, about tomorrow's announcement.

In it, he said that a Fortune 500 company was teaming up with the Pirates to make "a grand slam announcement about the future of baseball in Pittsburgh."

McClatchy wasn't available for comment yesterday.

Three weeks ago, on the night that the Regional Asset District board voted to provide county sales tax revenue for the stadium financing deal, Stephen Leeper, a top aide to Mayor Murphy, gave some details about the expected financing.

He said the Pirates had agreed to provide $40 million toward construction of the stadium, which will be built at the northern end of the Sixth Street Bridge.

Of that $40 million, the team would provide $8.5 million in cash up front, with the remaining $31.5 million stretching over an unspecified number of years, Leeper said.

He also said the Pirates had estimated they could receive up to $1.4 million a year for as long as 30 years from the sale of naming rights.

That would be less than some baseball teams have gotten and more than others. For example, among PG Benchmarks cities, Bank One in Phoenix agreed to contribute $66 million over 30 years -- more than $2 million a year -- to have the Diamondbacks' new park called Bank One Ballpark. And in Milwaukee, Miller Brewing Co. is paying $41 million over 20 years to name the Brewers' new facility Miller Park.

In Cleveland, however, businessman Richard Jacobs is paying $14 million over 20 years to name the Indians' facility Jacobs Field.

The precise package of signage and other perks that PNC will get for its money hasn't been disclosed, but it is expected to include a combination of large and small signs around the ballpark, and possibly an electronic marquee outside the stadium, similar to the one outside the Civic Arena.

Pirates officials wouldn't say how many other local companies were in competition with PNC for the naming rights. Rumors about the new park being named after PNC have been rampant for several weeks.

Mayor Murphy almost let the news slip three weeks ago during a groundbreaking for PNC's new $100 million operations headquarters, at Grant Street and First Avenue.

As he praised PNC Chairman Tom O'Brien's decision to build the operations center Downtown, Murphy quipped, "All I can say, Tom, is maybe we'll name a baseball stadium after you."

With its name on the new ballpark and the first spade of dirt turned on its operations center, PNC suddenly has its fingers in three of the region's largest development projects -- the new baseball stadium, the operations center and an ambitious retail and entertainment project running down Fifth and Forbes avenues, Downtown.

O'Brien, former chairman of the CEO-rich Allegheny Conference on Community Development, also chairs the Strategic Investment Fund, a $40 million real estate development loan pool started by the conference.

The bank's plan is to work with the city and Urban Retail Properties Co., the Chicago company planning "Market Place at Fifth and Forbes," a 600,000-square-foot project expected to cost between $170 million and $200 million. Gov. Ridge announced $10 million in state funds for the project last week. The Strategic Investment Fund may help with the financing, too.

PNC has been buying small office and retail buildings along Fifth, next to One PNC Plaza. More than half the block between Wood and Market streets now belongs to the bank. The acquisitions, done without fanfare, stem from O'Brien's desire to enhance Downtown, especially the area near the bank's headquarters.

In March 1997, PNC bought 221-225 Fifth Ave., a building with Bradley's Book Cellar on the bottom floor, for $3.1 million. In June 1997, it bought 217-219 Fifth Ave., the Kay's Tailor Shop building, for $1.7 million.

These followed a series of purchases PNC made in the 1980s on that same block. Records show the bank buying 227 Fifth, 235 Fifth and 237 Fifth in the early to mid-1980s for a combined $2.3 million.

"At the time we made each one of these small acquisitions we had no specific plans for the properties," said Gary Jay Saulson, senior vice president and manager of realty services at PNC. "However, we felt confident that we would have a constructive use for it in the near future."

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