Mayor-elect Jim Kenney met with Temple University officials Thursday and told them they must address the worries of neighbors before he can endorse the school's plan to build a football stadium on campus.
"Temple asked for this meeting to explain the benefits of building their stadium," Kenney's spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said in a statement Thursday night. "The mayor-elect enjoyed meeting with the university's representatives, and he appreciated them working with the city on this issue. He told the representatives at the conclusion of the meeting that he had concerns about Temple's relationship with its surrounding neighborhoods, and that he would like to see them address some of those long-standing issues before he would reconsider his position on the project."
Temple president Neil Theobald and other officials met with Kenney. There was no indication of how the pace of their stadium planning might change.
"It was a very cordial meeting, and we appreciate the mayor-elect taking time to discuss the issue," university spokesman Ray Betzner said via email. "We will continue to work closely with the community and the city as we move forward."
Theobald and other university leaders are tired of paying rent to the Eagles to play in Lincoln Financial Field, as they have done since the stadium opened in 2003. They are planning to redirect the future rent payments - which were $1 million this season and would grow in the future - toward paying for the construction of a 35,000-seat stadium just off North Broad Street. The hope is that an on-campus stadium would bring more people and alumni to the campus, along with donations.
Thursday's meeting came after Temple's board of trustees halted planning for the stadium Dec. 8 because of comments by Kenney. Kenney was quoted in the Philadelphia Business Journal as saying the Eagles should let Temple play "for free," as the Pittsburgh Steelers allow the University of Pittsburgh football team to do at Heinz Field.
A former Pitt athletic department official told The Inquirer on Thursday that Pitt has paid rent, based on ticket sales for each game, and a fee to offset the cost of operating the stadium, which opened in 2001. Pitt also gets a share of concessions.
Besides the $1 million in rent to play at Lincoln Financial Field, Temple must pay a fee for stadium operations, and it gets no money from concessions or parking. Theobald has said that in any long-term future agreement, the Eagles wanted a $12 million up-front payment and yearly rent of $2 million.
Some residents near the site of the proposed stadium have voiced objections or concerns, and some had complaints before the stadium issue arose. While they will be Kenney's constituents once he takes office in January, they are also represented by City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. Kenney would likely be wary of starting his administration with a fight with Clarke over any topic, a Temple stadium included.
Lincoln Financial Field and Heinz Field were built in the early 2000s partially with taxpayer dollars. Since Lincoln Financial Field has greatly increased the value of the Eagles, Kenney argued, the team should make a better deal with the city's largest public university.
Kenney's comments surprised Theobald, prompting the decision to pause at the board meeting and seek Thursday's meeting with the mayor-elect.
It's unclear how Kenney defines free, but Hitt said Monday that Kenney's view of the Pitt situation came from discussions with Temple officials.
The Temple administrators "expressed the idea that one reason for wanting to build a stadium was that the Eagles were increasing the costs for Temple," Hitt said Monday. "By comparison, the University of Pittsburgh and the Steelers have a much more favorable agreement, primarily monetarily, whether that is the share of concessions, rent, or perhaps costs for security."
Jason Lener, who is now the executive senior associate director of athletics at the University of Illinois, worked at Pitt from 1999 to 2006.
"We paid a rental fee to the Steelers, which was a percentage of ticket sales," he said Thursday. "We also paid a fee for the game operations. And, yes, we also got a percentage of concessions. It was all very reasonable. The Steelers were not looking to make a ton of money, and that's why the relationship was so good."
While Temple has never had an on-campus stadium, Pitt was looking to replace its 74-year-old on-campus stadium at the same time the Steelers were looking to replace Three Rivers Stadium - and build a practice facility.
The NFL team, the university, and the powerful University of Pittsburgh Medical Center combined to build a practice facility that both teams use today. A stadium authority owns Heinz Field, leasing it to the Steelers, who sublease it to Pitt for football games.
Asked about Kenney's suggestion that Pitt plays "for free," Lener said: "No one can put on a football game for free. Someone has to bear the financial burden of those costs."