Pittsburgh’s Sports & Exhibition Authority set to get $800K boost in taxpayer money next year |

Pittsburgh’s Sports & Exhibition Authority set to get $800K boost in taxpayer money next year

Natasha Lindstrom
A view overlooking PPG Paints Arena from the Steel Tower in Downtown Pittsburgh on April 11, 2017.

Pittsburgh’s stadiums and convention center are slated to share an $800,000 boost in taxpayer money next year from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, preliminary budget documents made public Wednesday show.

The Sports & Exhibition Authority — which owns Heinz Field, PNC Park, PPG Paints Arena and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center — would receive a new, $800,000 grant from the independent body known as RAD under the organization’s preliminary budget for 2019.

The money would go into a “multi-facility fund for its ongoing responsibility for capital improvements for the public facilities that it owns,” RAD’s funding allocation committee said.

“Funding is not for everyday maintenance, but would be used for capital repairs and improvements to the convention center, PPG Paints Arena, Heinz Field and PNC Park,” the committee said.

The proposed grant would be in addition to the $13.4 million of RAD’s annual budget that helps pay debt payments for the stadiums and convention center dating to their construction years ago.

In total, RAD intends to dole out $105 million in taxpayer money to arts, cultural and recreational groups deemed “regional assets” next year — plus devote another $2.5 million toward projects that enhance the region’s arts sector in “bold and innovative” ways.

RAD’s budget is funded with half of the revenue collected from an extra 1 percent sales tax in Allegheny County.

The record-high $108.5 million budget for grants in 2019 includes proposed grants for 104 organizations, documents show. It amounts to 8.5 percent more than RAD’s budget for grants this year.

Eighty-three recipients will get increases from what they received last year.

One recipient, The Mattress Factory, is slated to get an $82,000 operating grant hinging on a review by legal counsel of “pending allegations against the Mattress Factory,” the allocation committee said. “As a result of this review, the Board will then make a determination as to any allocation in our final budget,” the committee said. It did not provide further details. A Mattress Factory spokesperson could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

The recommended RAD budget also includes $3.9 million in approvals of capital grant requests — including a sea lion exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, new freight and accessibility elevators at the Andy Warhol Museum and new restrooms and playgrounds at Allegheny County Regional Parks.

“In addition, in recognition of our 25th anniversary, we are also recommending a new $2.5 million grant making project called, “This is RAD!,” which will focus on bold, forward-looking projects that demonstrate the creative ability of RAD assets to inspire the region for the next 25 years,” the committee said.

Formed in the 1990s to prevent the region’s libraries and parks from closing, RAD has pumped more than $4 billion into the region since its inception.

As RAD’s debt for stadium-related investment dwindles, the board has opted to bring more small arts organizations under its funding umbrella.

But critics have questioned whether RAD could become a political piggy bank used to replenish the revenues of cash-strapped municipal coffers.

Like every year since 2012, RAD proposes in 2019 to dedicate $3 million toward the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

The move initially proved to be controversial and the grant must be reapproved each year, but board members have said they intend to continue the funding stream through the decade so Port Authority won’t lose $30 million in matching state funds.

RAD’s allocation committee made its recommendations after evaluating each group’s regional impact, financial status and plans for spending the funding they requested.

In the budget proposed for 2019, libraries would get an increase of nearly $950,000.

County and Carnegie library systems would remain the largest recipient of overall annual RAD funding, at $32.5 million proposed for 2019.

Nearly one-third of the proposed budget would go to libraries; 31 percent to regional parks and trails; 13 percent to stadiums and the convention center; 13 percent to arts and cultural groups; and 8 percent to regional facilities such as the zoo and National Aviary.

Three percent would go to Port Authority, and less than 1 percent would be spent on RAD administration, documents show.

The proposed 2019 budget anticipates $101.5 million in annual tax sales revenue, up from $96.5 million expected last year.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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