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Columnist Ron Cook: Plan B flawed; option is worse

Monday, June 22, 1998

By Ron Cook, Post-Gazette Sports Columnist

OK, so Plan B isn't perfect.

Now that new stadiums are virtually assured for the Pirates and Steelers, it would be nice if the majority of Western Pennsylvanians were behind the projects and didn't feel as if they were being shoved down their throats. Every opinion poll shows that most are against the use of public money for stadiums.

It would be nice if the Pirates were kicking in more to the pot. Don't feel the need to thank Kevin McClatchy for raising the Pirates' share from $35 million to $40 million for their ballpark, priced between $203 million and $209 million. The deal gives him a chance to go from one of sports' poorest owners to a guy who makes millions.

It would be nice if the Steelers' long-term season ticket-holders who supported the team when it was a laughable loser wouldn't have to pick up much of the franchise's $76.5 million pledge for its $210 million stadium. Dan Rooney will say as much when he announces the personal seat licenses.

It would be really nice if the naming rights to the new stadiums weren't going to the team owners. McClatchy has said the new ballpark won't belong to him but rather to Pirates fans. If only that were true. McClatchy and Rooney will get the revenue from the naming rights and put it toward their share of construction costs.

Plan B really isn't perfect.

On the other hand ...

"This deal will be a hallmark for other cities because we did it with no new taxes," said Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer, the driving force behind Plan B. "We did an outstanding job."

At least McClatchy has agreed to share a bit of the booty if the Pirates take off in PNC Park and make a killing the way the Cleveland Indians did in Jacobs Field.

"We asked for less up front from the Pirates than the Steelers for two reasons," Cranmer said.

"One, the Pirates will play 81 games a year in their new ballpark while the Steelers will play nine or 10. That will generate more activity not just at the games, but also at the peripheral development.

"The other reason is that Three Rivers Stadium is much better for football than baseball. Originally, the Steelers were going to renovate it. Then, they decided they wanted a new stadium. For that to happen, they had to throw in more."

Commissioner Larry Dunn, who, unlike Cranmer, hasn't wavered from his election promise of no tax money for stadiums, can scream all he wants about "Scam B" and point a skeptical finger at the Steelers' pledge increase from $50 million to $76.5 million. "It's been a sham all along. It was designed for the Steelers to come up with more at the end to make Cranmer look good."

The bottom line is the Steelers' contribution is more significant than most football teams have coughed up for a stadium. And if someone has to help them with the freight, why shouldn't it be the season-ticket holders who get to enjoy the games in person?

If Cranmer and Rooney were in on a scam, Rooney is a heck of an actor. Unlike McClatchy, he at least had the decency to look like a battered loser when the Plan B details were released Saturday.

"We never threatened to leave," Rooney said. "Our experts told us that was a mistake, but that's not the way we operate. We're Pittsburghers."

It looks from here as if Cranmer and his cohorts, Mayor Murphy and Commissioner Mike Dawida, did the best they could under the trying circumstances of having two team owners ask -- no, demand -- new stadiums at the same time.

That won't appease Dunn and the Plan B opponents. They won't be appeased even if the stadiums generate jobs and economic growth and revitalize the tired North Side and Downtown areas, a daring and in some ways courageous prediction on which Cranmer and Co. are betting their political future.

That's too bad. It's time to stop the moaning and move ahead. Plan B is a done deal. The new stadiums will be built. It's time for everyone to try to make the projects work.

As imperfect as Plan B is, it beats doing nothing and allowing the Pirates and Steelers to leave. It certainly beats doing nothing and allowing our region to wither.