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March 18, 1999

Trustees expected to okay move out of Pitt Stadium

Trustees expected to okay move out of Pitt Stadium

Trustees today are expected to authorize the replacement of Pitt Stadium with a convocation center, student recreation center and student housing, providing Pitt can make arrangements to use the Steelers' new North Side stadium.

Pitt's Board of Trustees is meeting in special session at 11 a.m. today to consider a resolution that calls for:

* Demolishing 74-year-old Pitt Stadium following the 1999 football season;

* Using the 10-acre stadium site, which the University owns, for the long-planned convocation center;

* Expanding the convocation center's design to include a student recreation center and athletics administration offices;

* Building student housing with adjacent "green space" on the vacated site;

* Moving home football games beginning in 2001 to the planned Steelers stadium;

* Moving football practices to a new UPMC sports complex under construction on the city's South Side.

If the trustees approve the resolution, Pitt would play its final on-campus games this fall, and in fall 2000 would play in Three Rivers Stadium. (The last scheduled 1999 home game, scheduled for broadcast nationally by CBS, is Nov. 13 against Notre Dame.)

According to athletics director Steve Pederson, Pitt will seek alternative facilities for other Pitt Stadium users, including the soccer and track teams and intramural participants, but no formal plans are yet in place.

Trustees' approval of the resolution also would authorize officers of the University "to move forward with relevant discussions and negotiations and to execute all agreements and contracts" related to these projects.

While Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg expressed optimism about the plans, he told the University Times yesterday that passage of the resolution would not make the project a done deal. "I believe the board is voting on the basic concept," he said. "But there are still existing processes, like the work of board sub-committees for example, that are in place and will be followed. I will say that the most likely scenario is that we will be following the schedule [to move football games into the Steelers new stadium in fall 2001]."

According to Nordenberg, Pitt will not contribute to the construction of the Steelers' $233 million football-only stadium, but will seek a long-term rental agreement with the Steelers. The agreement would cover how to share concession and ticket revenues. Negotiations with the Steelers are friendly and ongoing, but in the early stages, the chancellor said.

Earlier plans had called for constructing the convocation center above Pitt Stadium on the site of University's OC parking lot.

The convocation center is slated to seat 12,500 and be the site of men's and women's basketball games, sports events, commencement exercises and other University functions. Pitt may also lease the building for concerts and public forums.

Projected construction cost for the convocation center, at the OC lot location, is $69 million, according to Pitt's recently revised facilities plan.

The state has committed $38 million to the project, and the University will raise the balance. To help offset the cost of construction, Pitt is considering selling or leasing naming rights to the new center, the chancellor said.

Nordenberg said the University anticipates a lower construction cost if the Pitt Stadium site is used. "We expect some cost savings, which would be a product of the fact that you don't have to pay expenses to carve away at the hillside and because there is a natural 'staging area' on the [stadium] site," he said.

The chancellor acknowledged that the amount of savings is unknown at this point.

Regarding the cost of the proposed dormitories, Nordenberg said residence halls typically pay for themselves from money generated from rent.

The chancellor said the convocation center was a higher priority than the housing and likely would be constructed first. No timetable is set for the new dorms, he said.

The trustees' resolution also would permit Pitt to rent facilities and some office space for athletics at the new South Side sports complex. UPMC Health System is building the complex, which will house the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, as well as athletic training and football practice facilities. The new complex is under construction on the vacated LTV steel mill site, with a projected opening of summer 2000.

Pending the trustees' approval, Pitt wants to use the facilities as soon as construction is completed, according to Pederson. The Steelers also are expected to practice at the $30 million, 25-acre complex.

Nordenberg said that support has grown for moving football games to the new Steelers stadium since the state legislature approved stadium financing on Feb. 3. "Until the state funding was approved, it was difficult to be focused on discussions," he said. "Since February, the level of public interest has been very high and the discussions intense. I think when this idea is first presented, it's not unusual for people to react with caution. But the more people learn about the advantages of the plan, the more supportive they've become. I would say — what I'm hearing generally — is an overwhelmingly positive reaction."

Not all in the Pitt community favor the move, however. Student Government Board (SGB) member Mike Unangst, a leader in the "Save Our Stadium" campaign, said, "Students still overwhelmingly are against [moving football off campus]. We're also disappointed that this was really done without hearing our arguments [against it]. We want to work with the administration, but we feel we're being shut out."

Unangst said the SGB has conceded that the plan will go forward and will turn its efforts toward providing input on the new facilities. "We have to have a voice in making sure that students get the best seats and ticket deals and that sort of thing. We want most of all to be part of the process," Unangst said. SGB members will attend today's Board of Trustees meeting as observers, he said.

Provost James V. Maher, in a letter to the editor published in today's University Times, wrote that "there will be many issues of program planning which will appropriately involve faculty and student input." The provost cited activities in the proposed recreation center, scheduling of concerts in the convocation center and planning transportation for students to the new stadium, among others (see page 2).

–Peter Hart

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