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Pirates, SEA Spar over PNC Park Upgrades

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are voicing their displeasure with the Sports and Exhibition Authority over proposed improvements to PNC Park, threatening legal action against the ballpark’s owner. 

In a recently uncovered letter, Pirates president Frank Coonelly expressed frustration on behalf of the organization over SEA’s handling of outlined projects at PNC Park. Specifically, Coonelly made a point in his December 21 correspondence of criticizing how SEA designates necessary repairs versus wanted upgrades.

Certain enhancements to PNC Park are to be covered through a SEA capital reserve fund. That fund, which includes revenue from a five-percent ticket surcharge, is being eyed by the Pirates to cover modifications to seating, new carpeting, and other tasks.

The Pirates contend that, by not paying for the repairs, SEA is going against its agreement with the team. SEA, however, says it is merely evaluating the plans to determine whether they fall in the scope of the agreement. More from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“We have suggested solutions to the SEA’s unfunded liabilities but rather than building a productive partnership in which we work together in the best interests of a tremendous community asset and the residents who enjoy it, your stance over the last few years is to force us to literally beg that fundamental provisions of our lease be followed,” Mr. Coonelly wrote.

“We have no interest in such a demeaning and unproductive exercise, or relationship.”

But Mary Conturo, SEA executive director, said the agency, the ballpark’s owner, is simply doing its due diligence in trying to determine whether the repairs requested by the team are the public’s responsibility under the lease.

“We disagree with their conclusion that the public is obligated to pay for certain replacements on demand, whether they are needed or not,” she said.

The tussle involves efforts by the Pirates to use the capital reserve fund, financed by a ticket surcharge, to pay for repairs to PNC Park seats; new carpeting for suites as well as carpeting and wood flooring for the Lexus Club; painting; and new field lighting.

A key point of contention appears to be plans by the team to upgrade the out-of-town scoreboard as well as some of the park’s other video boards.

One of the fundamental issues comes down to whether SEA and Pirates can agree as to what constitutes a necessary repair as compared to an upgrade. While the Pirates see the replacement of old technology as a necessity, the Post-Gazette goes on to report that SEA is still weighing whether the scoreboards are an appropriate public expense:

However, Ms. Conturo said newer technology sometimes results in new or increased revenue streams for the team or a reduction in operating costs and that it is valid to weigh such factors in determining how much the SEA and how much the Pirates should pay for the upgrades.

She added that the SEA is still reviewing the funding requests made by the Pirates and has not flatly rejected any of them. “We are looking at each one individually. It’s my expectation that certain pieces of this would be our responsibility,” she said.

On the other hand, Mr. Coonelly insisted that the upgrades being sought by the Pirates fall under the category of repairs and that the SEA is responsible under the lease to fund them.

Coonelly alluded to the possibility of legal action in his letter, but the Post-Gazette notes a statement from the team later downplayed that angle. SEA is a join authority between the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. It owns PNC Park and the Steelers’ Heinz Field, among other area venues.

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