Monday, August 4, 2008

The Stadium Authority & North Shore Development: Building a Mystery

UPDATE: SA Board to meet tomorrow (Wednesday) at 5:30.

Council held a post agenda session last week to explore the controversial and possibly expired "option agreement" between Continental Real Estate and the Steelers and Pirates, regarding terms of development between the stadiums on the North Shore.

Patrick Dowd asked at the outset what it was the Council would be attempting to "accomplish" at the meeting. Tonya Payne, who had called for it, responded simply that it was in response to a direct request by her constituents.

Time and again, council members were openly and amusingly confounded by the fact that they could not discuss the meat of the issue or issues.

"We can't ask them what their solicitor said," warned several.

"Council is once again in a position where an awkwardly framed -- where the absence of an awkwardly framed question is before us," is the way Dowd chose to put it.

"We all know what we're talking about here," answered SEA director Mary Conturo obliquely, although whatever this could be remained a mystery to those in the gallery.


"The difference in price continues to be a bone of contention," Bruce Kraus offered, as informatively as anyone would dare muster on this occasion.

The $1 million price tag found in the original contract could be orders of magnitude less than that which today could be garnered on the open market. In addition, if entirely new development terms can now legitimately be sought, various accommodations for the surrounding community might also be negotiated.

On top of this, even that $1 million owed by Continental is apparently being covered by monies that the Steelers are already paying to the City as a function of a consent order issued in November 2007, to contribute toward a traffic study in regards to the new casino. It is unclear how that money can fulfill both functions.

Bill Peduto laid out what he saw as three criteria for any new development contract: fair market value for the development rights, penalties in the new contract for failure to meet deadlines, and a formal community benefits agreement for the residents.

Darlene Harris, speaking generally in favor of the right of the community to negotiate with developers, asserted that "on the North Side, we've had CBA's for the last 28 years." She pointed to one with Allegheny General Hospital as an example. This all drew skeptical grumbles from the assembled crowd, comprised largely of activists from Northside United and the wider Pittsburgh United, which is in the business of organizing for formal CBA's.

Stadium Authority chair Deborah Lestitian, a self-described "housewife" appointed to the authority by Mayor O'Connor, contended that since Continental failed to meet deadlines in the original contract for development, that contract is null and void. Only upon direct questioning did she reveal that she herself is a contracts attorney and that this comprised her professional opinion.

Conturo of the SEA said there remains some dispute as to whether the contract is still in force. Although she is also is an attorney, she declined to offer a similarly clear assessment independent, or elaborate on the foundation of any disagreements.

Peduto made an allusion to "federal investigations" swirling around the city, perhaps in an attempt to cajole a little more frankness out of the guests assembled. Dowd registered an objection to this, admonishing that one oughtn't lightly bring up "federal investigations", because it can be dangerous to go about talking of "federal investigations", and one should really be far more discreet and reserved as to when to publicly mention any sort of "federal investigations".


said that negotiations for a "settlement" with Continental are ongoing in a "good faith" effort to avoid litigation...

However, I think we have a strong legal position, and I don't think the fear of being sued should keep us from doing the right thing.

The Comet desires to see these words inscribed on a coin.

Councilman Dowd also offered a sentiment we've been longing to hear: "Somebody from this body needs to be appointed to that Authority, because right now we have no way of connecting."

The Stadium Authority has not met since mid-March, when Councilman Peduto was removed from its board. The present board seems to be deadlocked 2-2 on this issue.

Unfortunately, the Comet had to leave before Councilman Shields took his crack at questioning. If anyone has intelligence as to how that went along with the rest of the meeting, please comment.

More: Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review


  1. i think i mentioned this to you before bram, but i'm still not over the irony of the difference in tone and behavior of pretty much all the councilpeople, but especially councilpersons Dowd and Harris, at this hearing compared to the hearing earlier in the day about the Malta building.

    They were all so self-congratulatory in their enthusiasm for the organized "community" and their support for the "community" in the morning hearing.

    Not so much, in the afternoon hearing.

  2. Rachel -- It's still hard for me to perceive that irony. The Knights of Malta question gave Council a clear option as to how to satisfy the "community" -- let's vote for historic designation! -- whereas the North Shore question could barely be discussed intelligibly, let alone could they take any action.

    It seemed to me like most of those present would have LIKED to fashion a resolution that included community benefits, were they not as helpless as the rest of us. Maybe you think that posture was disingenuous?

    It could be that all NU was hoping to achieve that day was to shine a harsher spotlight on the controversy -- which I think is more than worthwhile -- but we all know how certain council members feel about stirring the pot, shaking the hornet's nest, what have you.

  3. well, let's just say it seems like it's easier for our esteemed councilors to "get things done" and support the community when they're not facing opposition from the mayor's office.