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Old 04-01-2010, 03:40 AM   #1
Galax Steeler
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Default Steelers start work on complex near field

More than a decade in the making, the Steelers started construction this week on a $12 million entertainment complex next to Heinz Field, a venture that has featured more twists and turns than an elusive running back.

Even before the stadium opened in 2001, the Steelers were pitching the idea of building a 5,600-seat amphitheater on the North Shore to complement fall football as well as summer baseball at PNC Park.

But the idea proved to be fraught with more obstacles than a zone blitz defense. The Steelers worked with several developers on plans that never came to fruition, lost almost half of the state funding for the project, and battled some Stadium Authority board members and community activists over the price of the land and a benefits agreement for the North Side.

In the end, the Steelers partnered with Continental Real Estate Cos., the Columbus firm developing the land between Heinz Field and PNC Park, to get the deal done.

"I think everyone involved in the project worked very, very hard to see it through," said Mark Hart, director of business for the Steelers. "It's part of the Rooneys' commitment to the development of the North Shore. This is the next step. It's going to be a great amenity and attraction for visitors."

The complex will be built to host both indoor and outdoor concerts and events. The Steelers and Continental hope to have the outdoor side finished for the start of football season in September. The indoor part probably won't be ready until late October.

The complex will be able to hold as many as 2,500 people for indoor concerts that won't offer seating. Capacity will be lower for shows with seating. There will be room for as many as 5,000 outdoors.

Continental and the Steelers are hoping to attract as many as 100 events a year to the venue to make the North Shore more of a year-round destination. The two will co-own the complex.

"The goal was to make this facility as flexible as possible so we could do the most events," said Barry Ford, president of development for Continental.

Continental became involved after the Steelers failed to reach deals with Baltimore developer Cordish Co. and sports and entertainment giant Anschutz Entertainment Group. The team at one time had even talked to the House of Blues about partnering in an entertainment venture.

Mr. Hart said a number of factors complicated the project, including the economy, some of the characteristics of the riverfront parcel next to Heinz field, finding a suitable promoter and securing the financing.

The Steelers had been counting on a $4 million state grant to help cover the project cost, but ended up with $2.5 million. The rest of the project will be privately financed through PNC.

"I think we all had a lot of faith [in the endeavor]. Continental, the city, the neighborhoods, we all worked very hard to make sure it was the right project. We're confident it is. I think it's going to be a great investment for the region, the city, all of us," Mr. Hart said.

Continental and the Steelers see the complex as the "premiere venue in the region" for smaller to medium-size acts. They are aiming for a younger demographic, in the 18 to 30 age range, and are promising to offer as variety of genres, including rock, blues, jazz, country and reggae.

They do not see the tent amphitheater at Station Square, which is open during the warmer months of the year and seats about 3,500, as potential competition.

"In the 1,000 to 5,000 [attendance] sweet spot, [the North Shore complex] will be the venue," Mr. Hart said. "I think all the artists will want to play there."

Station Square general manager Rocco Miller could not be reached for comment.

The Steelers and Continental have yet to announce the opening concert for the complex, which has yet to be named. They plan to seek naming rights for the facility and hope to announce a deal within several weeks, Mr. Hart said.

In approving the project last year, the city planning commission ordered sound monitoring and an 11 p.m. curfew for outdoor shows. The outdoor stage will face Heinz Field in an effort to deaden the sound and prevent it from reaching North Side neighborhoods.

Mark Fatla, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference, said the organization was working with the developers on a variety of issues relating to the complex, including parking, traffic and sound.

"Certainly a big factor with an amphitheater is sound migration," He said. "Obviously we're going to spend a lot of time trying to get the best result we can on sound migration."

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