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Battle over Heinz Field signs, sounds and liquor angers Rooney

Friday, August 10, 2001

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Steelers President Dan Rooney is a soft-spoken chief executive, not given to airing grievances or showing his temper in public.

But he admits he's upset over the prolonged battle being waged by his North Side neighbors regarding the sound system, the signs and now the liquor license being sought for Heinz Field, which is due to open for football in just two weeks.

This is a portion of a photo illustration that was produced to show Pittsburgh civic leaders what the proposed Heinz Field logo will look like on the back of the new stadium's scoreboard at night.

"It does have me angered," he said yesterday during a stadium tour for sports reporters and photographers. Rooney said some Allegheny West residents "are using strong-arm tactics. They think they will push us around in all these things."

His son, Art Rooney II, team vice president and general counsel, said some Allegheny West residents "have chosen to call it war -- that's their term, not ours."

But David Toal, lawyer for the residents, said, "We have a gentlemen's dispute, not a war."

Dan Rooney said the challenge to the stadium liquor license, being mounted by the Allegheny West Civic Council, "is ludicrous. It's totally baseless."

Aramark, which will sell food and beverages at Heinz Field, has applied to the state for a "public venue" liquor license. The Allegheny West group has filed a "petition to intervene," a challenge which is due to be heard today at noon at a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board hearing in Pittsburgh.

Not having beer sold at football games would be "un-Pittsburgh, that's for sure," Rooney said.

Some Allegheny West residents claim that some Steelers fans, after consuming too much beer at games or at tailgate parties before or afterward, drive irresponsibly down neighborhood streets and even urinate on lawns in the neighborhood.

Rooney, who lives in Allegheny West and often walked to and from Three Rivers Stadium -- and does now to Heinz Field -- denied such claims of bad behavior by fans.

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"We don't want people to get intoxicated here. It doesn't happen," he said.

He said he thinks the real reason some residents are upset is fear about the level of noise they think will spill over from the stadium into the neighborhood. He said the Steelers have agreed to monitor the noise levels inside and outside the stadium this season and to make sound system adjustments if it's too loud.

"I live in that neighborhood -- I'm not trying to tear the place down," he said.

Concerning the liquor license challenge, Art Rooney said, "I think they're trying to use processes that have nothing to do with the sound system to bring pressure on us to do something about the sound. It's an inappropriate use of these processes."

He said the city Planning Commission has already found the Heinz Field sound system to be in compliance with city rules, but testing will be done this season and changes made if too much sound is escaping into the surrounding area.

"We are doing the best we can to resolve the issue," he said. A football stadium should be "a loud, exciting place," while not causing undue disturbance to surrounding areas.

John DeSantis, Allegheny West Civic Council president, said he thought he had a deal with the Steelers in early July to limit stadium-related noise to no more than 55 decibels on neighborhood streets.

The Steelers saw it differently, saying they wouldn't go beyond the 65 decibels that used to come from Three Rivers Stadium. They said that, as an entertainment venue, they aren't even bound by such limits, but agreed to them in the interest of being a good neighbor.

Dan Rooney said that Heidi Edwards, the project manager on the stadium, "went to many neighborhood meetings about the sound -- probably too many."

As for the proposed building identification signs, a revised design was released yesterday for the "Heinz Field" sign to go on the back of the scoreboard at the stadium's south end. It shows the words "Heinz Field" stacked vertically, in lighted red letters on a steel-gray background. In an earlier design, the two words were aligned side by side.

"We wanted something that looked good," Rooney said.

The proposed sign, with letters about 12 feet high, has gotten the go-ahead from the Planning Commission and the Riverlife Task Force, a privately funded group overseeing development along the three rivers. The sign on the back of the scoreboard will be visible from Downtown and the Point.

A hearing on the signs proposed for the stadium will be held Aug. 22 by the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Allegheny West residents have objected to the signs, calling them advertising signs, which aren't allowed in that location, rather than building identification.

Allegheny West lawyer Toal said of the revised Heinz Field sign: "It's more like advertising than ever before."

If the zoning board does approve the signs, Rooney said it would take four to six weeks for the signs to be manufactured and put up.

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