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Big Coke sign at Heinz Field ruled illegal; Rooney irked

Friday, November 16, 2001

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

City zoning officials have thrown the Steelers for a loss -- in the pocketbook.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment ruled yesterday that the Coca-Cola lettering cannot be added to the Great Hall signs and banners at Heinz Field.

The Steelers had sold naming rights for the Great Hall to Coke under a 10-year deal. They declined to say how much it was worth.

The proposed sign for the Great Hall. (Architectural Sign Associates of Pittsburgh)

Steelers President Dan Rooney was angry yesterday about the board's decision.

"I think it's a disgrace. I'm very upset about this," he said. "I'm recommending to our lawyers that we appeal it" to court.

He accused the board of being selective in the way it OKs signs -- "yes" to the Carnegie Science Center sign, "yes" to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sign, but "no" to the Coke sign.

"If they were taking all the signs down, that would be one thing, but they said 'OK' to some and 'no' to others," he said. "Ours would have been infinitesimal [in size] compared to the science center sign or the Trib sign."

The Steelers had tried to argue that the Great Hall was, in essence, a separate building from the stadium and thus needed to be identified with the words "Coca-Cola Great Hall."

Rooney said, "The Great Hall is a separate operation when there is no game."

But the board said: "The Great Hall is not a separate building; it is an integral part of the stadium. The Great Hall can be adequately identified without the phrase 'Coca-Cola."'

The board said the steel columns in the Great Hall support the stadium structure and the roof of the Great Hall serves as the floor of the concourse of the stadium above it, so the whole thing is one building.

The 40,000 square-foot hall, which is open on Pitt and Steelers game days as well as on Fridays, weekends, and Monday nights throughout the football season, contains a food court, lockers used by Steelers Hall of Fame players, and jerseys and other artifacts from both Steelers and Pitt football history. It also has banners, murals and 20-foot-high reproductions of the Steelers' four Super Bowl trophies.

John DeSantis, president of the Allegheny West Civic Council, applauded the zoning board's decision.

"Obviously, our community organization is pleased that the zoning board had the guts to issue this decision and they deserve credit for that. We believe the Steelers can do business in that building in a way that isn't an affront to the larger community," he said.

The zoning board's ruling resulted from a challenge brought by the civic council to the use of the Coke logo on the Great Hall.

But in another challenge brought by Allegheny West residents, the zoning board issued a ruling that was favorable to the Steelers.

As expected, it permitted the words "Heinz Field" to be used on lighted exterior signs on the back of the scoreboard near Gate A, as well as at Gates B and C at the northern end and outside of the north end of the stadium.

The Steelers sold the naming rights to the stadium to the H.J. Heinz Co. for $57 million for 20 years.

The civic council maintained that both the Heinz Field signs and the Coca-Cola Great Hall signs were, in reality, impermissible advertising signs rather than building identification signs, which are allowed under the zoning code.

The board, however, said it considered the Heinz Field signs to qualify as identification signs. The board didn't, however, view the Coca-Cola signs as identification but rather as advertising, which isn't allowed in that section of the North Shore.

The objectors said that the word "Heinz" in the sign on the back of the scoreboard is so much larger than the word "Field" that the sign amounts to a billboard, but the board decided to permit it.

The board did, however, set limits on how bright the Heinz Field signs can be -- no more than 95 candelas per square foot -- and on the hours of usage. The signs must be turned off either at midnight or two hours after a night game is over, whichever is later.

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