SBJ/November 30 - December 6, 1998/No Topic Name

Legislators park 4 stadiums on quicksand

Less than a week after proponents of public funding for stadium development won a resounding victory in Hartford, Conn., bitter defeat was at hand in a potentially resounding loss in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge's proposal to spend roughly $325 million on new stadiums for four of the state's professional sports teams was on the brink of collapse after the governor could not round up enough votes in the state Legislature.

The state Senate approved the plan last week, but after the House appeared ready to reject the funds, the vote was canceled.

Pittsburgh's two sports teams, the Pirates and the Steelers, were already planning on the money, which would have funded one-third of their planned new stadiums previously scheduled to open in 2001. The Pirates have said they would lose at least $30 million in 2001 if the funding did not materialize and their new ballpark was not built on schedule.

"We are really facing the potential of losing next year's construction season," a grim-faced Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy told reporters at a 2 a.m. press conference Wednesday. "If we can't get this resolved, the Pirates would have no choice but to leave [town.]"

Meanwhile, the Steelers had already begun to sell personal seat licenses for their planned new stadium.

Both teams were unable to make team executives available for comment.

There is a still a slim chance that the state House will reconvene today and pass the funding plan. But because today marks the start of hunting season in Pennsylvania, which one observer described as a virtual religious holiday in the Keystone State, the chance of passage before next year is almost nil.

Coming so closely on the heels of Connecticut's proposal to fully fund a $350 million stadium for the New England Patriots, the turn of events in Pennsylvania shocked many observers.

"It is very surprising," said John Moag, a managing director with Legg Mason Sports and the chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Moag, who testified on behalf of the funding plan earlier this year, said it would be unfair to infer that the defeat of the stadium money was the start of a national trend.

"Sports, like politics, is local," Moag said. "It doesn't send much of a message."

In Pennsylvania, defeat was blamed on a host of factors. Neither Philadelphia's Eagles nor Phillies has a developed stadium project. Lawmakers were said to be uneasy about putting up $150 million or more for two projects not even on paper yet.

Also, lawmakers from outside Pittsburgh and Philadelphia had little interest in funding major projects in those cities.

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