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Pittsburgh Steelers
Board to consider Plan B next month

Queries, RAD vote remain

Monday, June 22, 1998

By John M.R. Bull, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Now that city and county officials agree with the Steelers and the Pirates about how much the teams will pay toward new stadiums, most of the questions that Regional Asset District board members raised about the financing plan have been answered.

    More about Plan B:

Columnist Ron Cook: Plan B flawed; option is worse

Renderings of proposed Pirates ballpark, and photos of Forbes Field

Prior articles about PlanB


Mulugetta Birru, director of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, was one of the city-county negotiators involved in the bargaining that led to Saturday's agreements with the teams. He said the RAD board is left with only two major questions to be answered: What are the teams' current financial positions, and will they remain financially sound once the stadiums are built.

Birru said that the teams would forward to the RAD board their formal answers to those two questions by the middle of next week. The teams' financial records, however, will not be released to the public, he said.

It is up to the seven members of the RAD board to decide whether $13.4 million per year in county sales tax revenue may be used for the next 30 years to help underwrite the stadiums and expansion of the convention center.

Long before Saturday's session that led to the agreements, the RAD board asked for answers to 14 questions about how the deal involving the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the teams would be structured and what the likely impact would be on the teams' finances.

Board member Gerald Voros -- the only RAD board member who could be reached yesterday -- agreed that most of the 14 questions were answered Saturday.

The so-called Plan B package is an $803 million financing package for building the two new stadiums, expanding the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, and paying off the debt on Three Rivers Stadium.

In a 10-page letter of intent signed Saturday, the Pirates agreed to raise the team's share of a 38,000-seat stadium from the previously offered $35 to $40 million. The baseball park is expected to cost $203 million to $209 million.

At the same time, the Steelers negotiated an agreement in principle in which the team raised its earlier offer of $50 million to $76.5 million toward a 65,000-seat, $210 million football stadium.

Voros and Margaret McCormick Barron, the mayor's spokeswoman, said they expected the RAD board to meet and vote next month on the proposal.

At least six of the RAD board members must approve using the $13.4 million a year in RAD funds for Plan B. RAD funds come from the county sales tax of one percentage point, above the state sales tax of 6 percent.

If the RAD board accepts the proposal -- which includes having the state contribute one-third of the cost of the two stadiums and half of the convention center expansion -- it would clear the way for property acquisition in August and construction perhaps beginning in the spring. Both teams want to be playing in their new stadiums in 2001.

RAD board members previously said they had not decided whether to approve the deal, but public officials who support the plan have appointed six of its members.

Earlier this month, county Commissioner Bob Cranmer asked member Fred Baker, whom he appointed, to resign after Baker said he would not support using RAD money to finance new ball fields. Cranmer then nominated David W. Christopher of Mt. Lebanon, a retired accounting executive and former Republican Party official, to replace Baker.

"That sent a message. I am 99.99 percent sure this is a done deal," county Commissioner Larry Dunn complained yesterday. He opposes the plan.

"Only a super strong effort by the public, contacting the board, has any chance of swinging even one vote," Dunn said.

A RAD board meeting has not yet been scheduled for next month. RAD chairman David Matter could not be reached yesterday.

Besides the state and team shares and the RAD funds, players will ante up as part of the plan.

Those who live out of state would pay a 1 percent player tax on their salaries, Birru said.

The teams, city and county would split that money, Birru said. Although player taxes are not imposed in Pennsylvania, they are in other states, and negotiators obtained a legal opinion that such a tax is legal, he said.

Corporate Pittsburgh also will be tapped for money.

The teams agreed to help the city and county convince corporations to buy as much as $40 million in a separate bond issue to be used for future improvements or repairs to the new stadiums, Birru said.

Dunn said he is not convinced that the RAD board legally could agree to pay a portion of the bond repayments on a stadium-financing deal, although the board has the right to financially help Three Rivers Stadium.

Dunn said he has two lawyers researching the matter and that he might sue because he believes the vast majority of taxpayers do not want any public money used to build new ball fields. He would not name the lawyers.

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