Voters Turn Down Initiative For Pittsburgh Stadiums An Increase In The Sales Tax Was Requested. The Money Would Have Gone For Regional Projects.

Posted: November 05, 1997

PITTSBURGH — A tax measure that would have built new stadiums for the Pirates and Steelers was defeated last night in Allegheny County and the 10 other Western Pennsylvania counties that were voting on it.

As the votes were counted, the ballot question was losing by ratios of 3-2 in some places - and as much as 3-1 in others.

Residents of the 11 counties were asked to increase the sales tax half a percentage point to raise $700 million for the Regional Renaissance Initiative. Besides the stadiums, the money would have been used to expand the downtown convention center and cultural district, and pay for job-creating projects such as industrial parks and water lines throughout the region.

``We introduced to the voters in 11 counties something they weren't familiar with,'' said Barbara McNees, head of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, as the results came in. ``We always said there is no Plan B.''

The Pirates have said they cannot afford to remain in Pittsburgh without a new stadium. The Steelers haven't threatened to leave.

The months-long campaign was fought across the television airwaves and in front of neighborhood supermarkets, with the pro-tax forces boosted by endorsements from celebrities such as Steelers coach Bill Cowher and Pirates outfielder Al Martin.

The Community Alliance for Economic Development and Jobs raised and spent millions in an effort to get the tax referendum approved, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a rare front-page editorial endorsing the measure.

Tax supporters said that the economic future of Western Pennsylvania hung on whether people would pay a half-penny more to fund dozens of job-creating projects and, in their words, propel the region into the 21st century.

But almost from the start, the initiative was condemned by citizens, local government leaders and some former ballplayers, who said taxpayers were being asked for every last penny while wealthy team owners were getting millions.

Philadelphia sports-team owners and arena-finance experts monitored the voting, trying to gauge if it would foreshadow the city's ability to replace Veterans Stadium.

Sam Katz, head of EnterSport Advisers in Bala Cynwyd, said the vote was ``critical'' to enhancing stadium and facilities efforts around the state - and that passage would indirectly benefit efforts to finance new stadiums in Philadelphia.

The initiative asked residents in Allegheny and 10 surrounding counties to pay the tax for seven years, the money going to job-creating projects in every county that voted for it.

Three-fourths of the money raised in the outlying counties would stay there, with one-fourth going to the Pittsburgh projects. That percentage would be reversed in Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh.

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