The Authority That Wouldn’t Die!!!

The Mayor just appointed City Council’s most junior member to the board of the Stadium Authority, an Authority that was created in 1965 to "provide increased commerce and prosperity, and to promote cultural, physical, civic, social, and moral welfare to the general public". No doubt its role as the owner of Three Rivers Stadium did most of the above-the jury on how "moral welfare" was promoted is still out.

Consider that the new appointee had just become eligible to drive in the Commonwealth when the stadium was demolished, eleven years ago this month. Since then, the Stadium Authority no longer owns any stadiums, that role taken over by the Sports and Exhibition Authority (the SEA performs administrative duties and gets reimbursed by the Stadium Authority) so the Stadium Authority is now relegated to playing land developer and constructed a parking garage in the land between the new stadiums.

The Authority’s financial statements make it clear that "the garage has not and will not generate revenues fully sufficient to cover expenses and debt service". It took on a $20 million loan to construct the garage, and the financial statement states that the last payment will be December 1, 2028, somewhere around Super Bowl LXII. Long-term leases involving the Authority and parking spaces last until 2050, just around the time the current Steelers’ quarterback can begin collecting Social Security.

A 2005 report to the ICA said that "operationally, the Stadium Authority could be operated by another City authority such as the URA". That same report showed that as of 2004 the Authority had total assets of $9.4 million and liabilities of $9.4 million. In 2011 total assets were $35 million and total liabilities of $44 million.

Sure makes that admonition on the Stadium Authority’s website in 2001 that its "existence and function will conclude with the planned demolition of Three Rivers Stadium" look funny after all these years.

Institutional Amnesia

The surest sign of neurotic behavior is the constant and repetitive use of arguments that have been thoroughly debunked. Now comes City Council’s budget director telling Council that visitors, commuters and non-profit realestate are not paying enough to the City.

The director said "we’re like an amusement park that only charges the people that live there…we’re not charging the people that come and visit." Obviously the director forgets that non-City taxpayers funded two new stadiums and a convention centerandgaming revenue from around the state underwrote construction ofthe hockey arena. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, where the City’s gratitude for that support?

Guess what? All these structures are property tax exempt. And theCity receives virtually all the economic benefits these facilitiesspin off. Parking, restaurants, bars, hotel room nights, retail sales,etc.

Then there is the amusement taxand non-resident sports tax. The director suggested asking the state to allow the City to raise the amusement tax. But that tax was cut in half from 10 to 5 percent in 1995 asrequired by the Regional Asset Tax law. In exchange for huge amountsof support for City cultural, entertainment and education organizationsthe City was previously funding, the City lost half the amusement tax-a small price relative to the RAD benefits. Any gratitude for all thetax dollars pouring into Pittsburgh from the rest of the County? Not aword.

RAD was touted as the City’s financial savior; ditto the newstadiums and convention center. The lack of prudent spending never enters into the cloudedmental processes of elected officials or those who work for them.

Addicts have to admit they have problem if they ever hope to getwell. No such admission has been forthcoming. And so it goes.