Rooney: Resolve casino dispute without courts
Friday, June 01, 2007

By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers aren't in a hurry to sue over traffic-related disputes involving the North Shore casino, but they say there must be a better way for the parties to resolve their differences.

Steelers President Art Rooney II said yesterday the team isn't happy with the city planning commission decision this week to approve the casino master plan and questioned whether the proper process was in place to work out problems short of legal action.

"I think we need to have a better process to try to work toward a real master plan that everyone can feel confident in and that will work for all the stakeholders over there. So far that's not what we have," he said.

Mr. Rooney also questioned whether a game day traffic study ordered as part of the conditions of master plan approval would be adequate. The Steelers and the Pirates had pressed for such a study to be done before master plan approval.

The commission rejected that idea, but ordered PITG Gaming and its owner, Don Barden, to have one completed by Sept. 30, along with proposed mitigating measures.

Despite the concern over the casino's impact on Steelers games at Heinz Field, Mr. Rooney said the team "would rather avoid going to court to solve these issues."

But if that is to happen, there's a need for a better process to handle and resolve disputes, not only relating to traffic but issues like design. He criticized the planning commission for allowing each speaker only three minutes to air their views at Tuesday's meeting.

He also said the 16 traffic-related conditions recommended as part of master plan approval were never presented to the traffic committee that is part of a gaming implementation task force set up by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

The committee is supposed to handle traffic-related issues.

"Our point is if the casino is going to be there, let's do it right. If we don't have a process to do it right, it's going to be a second-rate project and a project people are going to be unhappy with. It's going to be difficult to live with. Now is the time to do it right," he said.

PITG Gaming officials also expressed concern about being shut out of one of the traffic committee meetings.

Mr. Onorato said last night he plans to meet with the Steelers and Mr. Barden to try to work out the issues. He already has met with the Carnegie Science Center, which also has concerns.

"I think these issues can be resolved," he said.

In a short voice-mail message earlier this week, Dennis Davin, county economic development director and gaming task force co-chair, attributed some of the problems to task force "growing pains." He could not be reached for comment last night.

Planning commission members have said design-related issues and some involving the science center can be dealt with during a series of project development approvals needed before construction. The casino would be built next to the science center.

The Steelers have been pushing for the creation of a group like the one in place during the construction of Heinz Field and PNC Park to handle issues that came up.