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Highmark Stadium expansion a ‘challenge’, but Riverhounds have ‘opportunities to get very creative’

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are in the process of expanding Highmark Stadium, but fans are going to have to be patient before the renovations are fully complete, Jeff Garner has stressed.

This article is the first in a five-part series with Pittsburgh Riverhounds President Jeff Garner about the state of the franchise, both on and off the field. 

The 2023 season saw plenty of accomplishments on the pitch for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, but perhaps more importantly, the club was able to take huge strides off it too. The most obvious example is in the stands, where attendance often exceeded the 5,000 mark and gave the Riverhounds their highest-ever average attendance. 

What happens though if the team manages to continue their surge in popularity? With more success comes more fans, and more fans means more seats, which brings us to the topic of stadium expansion and how the Riverhounds can best take advantage of their (hopefully) ever-growing fanbase. 

Now for those of you who are familiar with Highmark Stadium, when you hear expansion, your first thought might be (as it was for me) ‘where are they going to put anything else?’ With Station Square Drive and the railroad tracks keeping them hemmed in at the sides and parking lots behind both goals, the logistics of adding more seats might look like something of a daunting task. 

But speaking exclusively to Pittsburgh Soccer Now, team president Jeff Garner outlined exactly what plans the team has for each of the stands at Highmark, starting off by saying that one stand in particular is set to be safeguarded from any construction work, but for a very good reason: 

“It’s a challenge, the footprint is a challenge. Part of what makes this stadium fantastic is how photogenic it is. You’re downtown without really being downtown, it’s easy to get in and out. You have the skyline and the river, certainly, that’s a view that we didn’t want to cover up. So it really takes that north side of the stadium (with the city skyline behind it) out of play as far as development goes, there’s really not enough width to build anything and we don’t want to go up. So that will largely remain as it is at this point. We could change maybe the type of seating that is there. We could do some different things, but it’s very limited what we can do on that side. So really it leaves us three sides. 

“We own the parking lot here to our west (behind the corporate boxes), and so potentially we would be able to take this building and expand it into the parking lot. Expanded locker rooms, expanded storefronts, our merchandise store is way too small… we’re going to add some kiosks and some different things this year to help with that, but in the long run, we need a bigger store. We’d also like a store that has some curb appeal that can be open and more easily accessible. Concessions, that’s an area that we have a lot of opportunities to get very creative with when we serve larger crowds and so being able to offer more concessions options. So there’s an opportunity to go back into that parking lot. 

“So then you’re left with really the south side, which is the main grandstand, our press box needs to be expanded, we’ve looked at a multiple-level press box, some of that being hospitality to take advantage of the skyline that can host different types of events, obviously media and then control and broadcast. So we need more room to control as our video board will expand in the future, we’re getting a new video board. 

“From a seating standpoint, we don’t have a lot of room. Now we do own a portion of West Station Square Drive, so we wouldn’t want to close it, but we could have the ability to go back over it and we can go up above, so we are going to have to go vertical. Now a lot of the capacity we talked about, if we’re going to get to 13,000 or 14,000 seats, a lot of the capacity is going to come from an upper deck. 

“And then you have The Paul Child Stand, and there’s more room to go up there, you can’t go back into that parking lot, but you can go up and so there’s some room to expand there. The last part of this are the corners, and so closing off these corners, whether we use a more traditional seating bowl type of structure, or, pay a little homage to PNC Park and to Acrisure with more of a rotunda type of view where it’s a steel structure, and there are some standing room seats, and that adds a little character, those have been discussed. 

“We’ve started to look at models and concepts and different ways that we could do some things… Whatever we end up doing will be in phases, we’ve really come to that conclusion, we don’t want to shut the stadium down for a year and go play somewhere else, I think we will do it in phases over the next three to five years.”

Of course all these changes are going to need to be funded from somewhere. Now the Riverhounds have applied for $10m worth of assistance from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, which would cover a lot of the cost of expansion, but as Garner states, if they aren’t able to get help from the state, it isn’t the end of the road:

“We are exploring different types of financing and so some of the financing available from just the white print quite frankly, won’t be enough to fund everything that we would like to do. So we are working through some opportunities for funding and a lot of different areas that will be a main source of funding, it won’t be the only source of funding I wouldn’t think.”

Matthew will have more with Jeff Garner in Part II of this series, on Monday, as they discuss how the Riverhounds are “open to building relationships” in Pittsburgh after success of 2023

Glory on the Grass

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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