Pittsburgh teams put on their hard hats for stadium updates
Pittsburgh was the site of SportsBusiness Journal’s first facilities conference in 2001. PNC Park and Heinz Field both opened that year, two new stadiums sitting a few blocks apart on the Allegheny River near downtown Pittsburgh.
Now those buildings are approaching middle age, considering the typical 30-year life span of a sports venue. Like many other buildings that sprang up during the major leagues’ building boom, both are developing upgrades to meet the shift in market demands in their facilities.
The Steelers are planning a $40 million renovation behind the south end zone at Heinz Field that will add about 3,000 seats to the stadium. The team is working with Populous, the stadium’s original architect, to design a mix of regular seats and premium seats.
The south end is now largely an open space with a concrete plaza where fans can stand and watch the game, with about 400 Legends Club seats near field level. The reconfigured South Plaza will fill the SRO space with regular seats, premium seats and an indoor hospitality area.
The plaza itself will be moved one level up, where it will connect with the main concourse and wrap around the back end of the scoreboard, preserving the great views to the city, said Jimmie Sacco, the Steelers’ executive director of stadium management.
The enclosed hospitality space could be a combination of a club and suites, team President Art Rooney II said.
A stadium tour guide taking conference attendees into a sideline suite at Heinz Field said the Steelers are building five new suites in the south end, and a project rendering sitting on a counter there appeared to confirm her statement.
But upper management say they have not reached a decision on the right mix of seating. “Maybe half of them will be club seats,” Rooney said. “Suites are a possibility as well. We fortunately have a strong demand for premium seating in our market.”
To determine who gets access to the new premium seats, the Steelers plan to pull names from a season-ticket waiting list of more than 40,000; those who have sat in the Legends Club, a section of retractable seats in the south end; and others preferring seat upgrades.
The Steelers are still waiting on a few public approvals before they can officially move ahead with the project, which they want to complete for the 2015 season, Sacco said.
For this year, the Steelers added a new Daktronics video board in the stadium’s northwest corner. The new screen stands 35 feet tall and 72 feet wide. The need for a second video board was driven in part by the new seats in the south end facing it, Rooney said.
Heinz Field will grow to between 68,000 and 69,000 seats after the South Plaza project is completed.
At Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, the Lexus Club is 95 percent sold after the Pirates’ playoff run last season. Single-game party suites in left field, themed for Pirates championship teams (below), may soon be duplicated in right field.
> PNC PLAN: The Pirates, meanwhile, are teaming with Populous on a master plan for improvements over the next 15 years at PNC Park, a stadium many feel is still MLB’s best-looking ballpark. To this point, nothing has been set in stone, team officials said.
The park opened with 65 suites and about 5,600 club seats. The number of sellable suites is now down to 61 because of the consolidation of four suites into Club Cambria, a popular all-inclusive club along the third-base line in its fifth season of operation.
This season, one year after the Pirates reached the playoffs for the first time since 1992, team officials have seen demand increase for premium seats, said Chris Zaber, the club’s senior director of ticket sales and service.
“Our premium areas are starting to get sold out,” Zaber said. “The Lexus Club [directly behind home plate] has gone from 60 percent to 95 percent sold.” The same percentages hold true for the Pittsburgh Baseball Club, a group of 2,400 club seats behind the Lexus Club sections.
About 70 percent of PNC Park’s suites are occupied this season after the team completed 34 new leases in the offseason. All but one agreement has been divided among multiple buyers purchasing packages of 10 games or more, Zaber said.
Further reducing the total number of traditional suites to 45 would hit the park’s “sweet spot” for consistently filling those units, he said.
As they work through the finer points of the master plan, the Pirates would like to convert 11 suites down the right-field line into single-game party suites to match the seven World Series suites in left field. The World Series suites fit 30 to 50 people.
“We need more party units,” Zaber said. “If we had 14, we could sell them every day of the week. People are looking for that high-end experience at $100 to $175 a ticket.”
Zaber said other upgrades on the Pirates’ wish list include building a deck in left-center field next to the batter’s eye for pregame hospitality, and developing another all-inclusive ticket package by putting a roof canopy over outfield seats in right field behind the Clemente Wall.
A loge box product could also be in the mix. The Pirates have seen the new four-seat boxes at Yankee Stadium as well as the loges at Consol Energy Center, home of the Penguins. Those two buildings could serve as a model for what could be done at PNC Park, he said.
Pirates owner Bob Nutting weighed in on the master plan during a one-on-one interview during the conference, saying he would like to see the upgrades extend the life of PNC Park well past the 30-year threshold.
“The process we’re going through now is a 30,000-foot-deep dive into what our vision for the ballpark is, what we want it to look like 15 years from now,” he said. “But I think PNC Park can be thought of as an iconic ballpark the way Wrigley and Fenway truly have iconic sustainability.”
> OVERHEARD: The San Antonio Spurs, fresh off winning their fifth NBA title, now turn their attention to renovating AT&T Center, their 12-year-old arena. 360 Architecture and Hunt Construction have been hired to design and build the upgrades, confirmed Lori Warren, senior vice president of corporate finance and strategy for Spurs Sports & Entertainment, the team’s facility operations division. Icon Venue Group is managing the project for the Spurs and their co-tenant, the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. More details and images will be released in August, Warren said. … Temple University plans to consult with architects and general contractors, the first step toward building what could be a 30,000-seat on-campus stadium at a cost of $125 million to $150 million. “There is some high-level discussion but nothing beyond that,” said James Creedon, the school’s senior vice president of construction for facilities and operations. Temple’s football team plays at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. … AEG is still in the running for leading a mixed-use development tied to the Atlanta Braves’ stadium project in Cobb County, according to a source familiar with the situation. In April, a team composed of AEG, Hines and North American Properties pulled out of the competition for reasons not disclosed. Since that time, AEG officials contacted the Braves and told them they remained interested in pursuing the $400 million project on their own. A group of Atlanta developers is the only competitor that has been publicly disclosed. The Braves are in the late stages of negotiations with potential partners for certain project components, team officials said. … Pointstreak, a technology firm conducting 50/50 raffles electronically at stadiums, has signed two more NFL teams for the coming season. The Eagles and Colts join the Cardinals, Bills, Jaguars, Chiefs and Dolphins, Pointstreak’s five existing NFL clients. Bump Worldwide, a Pointstreak competitor recently acquired by Sportech Racing and Digital, a provider of wagering technology for racetracks and casinos, has two NFL clients, the Lions and Redskins. Teams donate half the money generated from those raffles to charitable groups with ties to the team. The other half goes to the person holding the winning ticket.