Three Rivers Stadium, where both teams have played for 30 years, will be imploded next Sunday.
Many locals see the new stadiums not only as a much-needed financial and image boost for the Pirates, who were prepared to leave Pittsburgh, and the Steelers, who were threatening to follow suit, but also as a necessity for the city's economic well-being.
"The stadiums were a measure of whether this community was going to go forward or not," said Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, who points to $4 billion in new development and cites the stadiums as playing an important role in catalyzing the construction boom.
Construction is everywhere. Roads are being widened. Hotels are being renovated and expanded. Around the new baseball park, signs herald the coming of new retail office space, restaurants and nightclubs.
Excitement is growing as the final touches are being made at the baseball park, a $262 million project toward which the Pirates have pitched in $44 million. (The Phillies are committed to covering $172 million of the $346 million cost of their new park.)
The Pirates' new park is at the north end of the Roberto Clemente Bridge - named for the legendary Pirates all-star - across the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh. Last week, the towering ballpark lights were turned on, serving notice that opening day is just around the corner.
Leading a tour group through the ballpark on Thursday, Pirates vice president Steve Greenberg could not contain his excitement. As he looked out over the field and toward the backdrop of the bridge and the Pittsburgh skyline, he declared: "I can say without any reservation that this is the best view of any ballpark in baseball."
The Steelers stadium, on the other side of Three Rivers Stadium, is a horseshoe-shaped structure with the open end facing Point State Park, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge to form the Ohio River.
About six months from completion, the Steelers stadium will also be used for home games of the University of Pittsburgh football team. The cost of the stadium is $284 million, with the Steelers contributing $113 million. (In Philadelphia, the Eagles will pay $310 million toward their $395 million new stadium.)
For now, most of the attention goes to the Pirates' new home, named PNC Park after the Pittsburgh-based bank that bought the naming rights for $30 million.
The ballpark is a monument of steel, glass, concrete, and rough-hewn limestone gathered from a quarry in Indiana. The playing field, now covered with a green tarp to protect it against freezing, is Kentucky bluegrass from Michigan that was planted in October. The diamond and warning track are covered with crushed red lava from Colorado.
The park is airy and open, in stark contrast to Three Rivers, where the high walls protected football fans from frigid wind but trapped baseball fans in a stifling summer stew.
The highest seat behind home plate is only 88 feet away, whereas it was 132 feet away at the old stadium. The distance between home plate and the river is 443 feet, meaning many home runs will be plopping into the Allegheny.
"That was the primary goal: Intimacy - bringing the fans closer to the action," Greenberg said.
That has been the trend with new baseball parks, away from concrete behemoths like Three Rivers and Veterans Stadiums and toward smaller baseball-only venues. The Phillies' Web site promises baseball "the way it was meant to be" at the new park, with "an old-time feel, but with all the amenities of a modern park." The Phillies plan to open the 45,000-seat park in 2004. The Eagles' stadium is scheduled to open in 2003.
To maximize the value of the new park, the Pirates will keep it open year-round with restaurants and facilities for special events such as wedding parties.
Adding to the appeal of an off-season stop at the stadium, Pirate officials hope, are nearby attractions such as the Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum as well as a few restaurants and bars.
As the park nears completion, final preparations are being made to implode Three Rivers Stadium. The implosion had been scheduled for Sunday, but time constraints and safety concerns forced contractors and local officials to push back the date one week.
Two thousand pounds of dynamite will be inserted into holes drilled all around the stadium. The detonation sequence and collapse are expected to take about 19 seconds.
"It's going to look as though it sank into the ground," said David Bianchi, vice president of Bianchi Trison Corp., the firm from Syracuse, N.Y., that was hired to oversee the demolition.
Crews have worked around the clock to gut the stadium in preparation for the implosion.
An auction last month raised more than $1.1 million from the sale of Three Rivers memorabilia. Items auctioned off included:
Home plate from the bullpen - $3,100.
The first 200 pieces of artificial turf - $200 each.
A locker-room first-aid kit - $800.
Pirates locker-room trash cans - $175.
Local television stations have been running retrospectives on Three Rivers, highlighting great moments in Pittsburgh's modern sports history, including:
The Immaculate Reception - The 1972 Franco Harris catch of a Terry Bradshaw pass that won the Steelers' first playoff game (the team eventually won four Super Bowls).
Roberto Clemente's 3,000th and final hit in 1972 just before he died in a plane crash.
The Pirates' 1979 World Series victory led by Willie Stargell.
"There's certainly a lot of good memories in Three Rivers," Mayor Murphy said. "But on the other hand you have on either side of it two new spectacular facilities."
That's how a lot of people see it.
"Spent a lot of good times over the years," Jim Drexler, 50, said after completing his shift as an equipment operator at a nearby parking garage being built for the new stadiums. "Saw the Immaculate Reception there."
Was he feeling sad about the final days of Three Rivers?
"Nah. Not really. It wasn't the greatest. It was a place to go," he said.
Drexler noted with pride that he worked in construction on the new ballpark last year.
"I'm telling you, that's going to be a great place to play baseball," he said.
Robert Moran's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.