By selecting Ben Roethlisberger in the first round of last weekend’s NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers hope to revive the Super Bowl dreams that once flourished in the days of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann.
But another personnel move — this one off the field — may have a more enduring impact on the team’s success.
The Steelers have kicked off an effort to secure nearly half a billion dollars from Congress to help revitalize the area around Heinz Field, the team’s home stadium, according to recent lobbying-disclosure documents.
To help secure these funds, the Steelers have partnered with baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates, whose adjoining PNC Park also would benefit from the new development, as well as the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and city of Pittsburgh.
Calling the plays for the two teams in Washington is a man whose family history on Capitol Hill is as legendary as the Steelers is on the gridiron: Bob Shuster.
Shuster, a partner with the Steelers’ Pittsburgh-based law firm Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling, is the brother of Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and the son of former Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), the powerful former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
One of Shuster’s partners at his firm, Art Rooney II, is president and general counsel for the Steelers and the son of the team’s owner, Art Rooney.
Professional sports teams rarely hire lobbyists on their own, preferring to leave most of the heavy lifting in Capitol Hill to the leagues, such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
One exception is the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, who keep their own Washington lobbyist on retainer.
But in this case, the Steelers and Pirates decided to hire their own team in Washington because their interests are provincial.
The twin stadiums now in use were built to replace Three Rivers Stadium — the aging and ugly structure that had played host to the Pirates’ and Steelers’ championships in the late 1970s. After resolving years of discord over funding sources, including a taxpayer revolt, local officials drew up far-reaching plans to revive the site, a one-time no man’s land located just across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh’s gleaming skyscrapers.
The money being sought by the Steelers and Pirates will fund better roads, improved parking facilities and a light-rail extension, officials say.
The teams want to expand upon the commercial development that has already taken root near the stadiums, which include dozens of shops, restaurants and sports bars.
“We’re interested is trying to build the synergy of an Inner Harbor in Baltimore,” said Charles Kolling Jr., a government affairs specialist with Klett Rooney. “We want to make it a destination.”
The plan calls for $100 million to upgrade and expand roads to Heinz Field and PNC Park — a specialty of former Rep. Shuster. But the site planning was also done with an eye to maximizing fans’ mass-transit and foot-traffic options, rather than creating a maze of highways that cut off the site from the river and from the local neighborhoods.
Doing so, however, can be expensive. Officials project the light-rail extension to cost $365 million.
Lobbyists for the teams see the $300 billion highway spending bill being written in Congress as a possible vehicle for their earmarks.
The House version of the bill, which includes the development project, was drafted in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which Shuster is a member.
Though the Capitol Hill offensive was begun just last year, the Steelers and Pirates have already scored some points: Congress added an initial $40 million for the project in last year’s appropriations bills.
In his budget request earlier year, President Bush — a one-time sports-team owner and a candidate who desperately wants to win Pennsylvania this fall — requested full funding for the light-rail extension and transit improvements.
About 40 percent of the cost of the new light-rail system would be covered by commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The state also will pay for 20 percent of the new roads construction.
The Steelers hope to complete the rail extension by the time the team starts its 2006 season.
The highway improvements “could be done much more quickly,” Kolling said.
Kolling added that the teams are getting upfield blocking help from several Pittsburgh-area civic interests. These include the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and Pittsburgh’s Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns Heinz Field and PNC Park.
So far, only the Steelers and the county port authority have registered to lobby Congress.