Civic Arena razing could hurt developers

Advocates target request for SEA’s federal $3M grant

The demolition of the Civic Arena may come back to haunt the effort to secure federal funding to build the roads and utilities needed to redevelop the 28-acre site that once held the venue.

In an April 21 letter, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is urging a federal agency to defer action on a request for a $3 million grant by the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority until it has investigated the circumstances surrounding the demolition.

Local preservationists have long charged that the SEA engaged in “anticipatory demolition” of the arena in 2011 and 2012 in violation of section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires an extensive review of a property to determine its historic significance before it can be razed or altered.

They have said that the penalty for such behavior could be the loss of federal funding for the residential, office and commercial redevelopment proposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team for the arena property.

In a letter to the federal Economic Development Administration, Elizabeth S. Merritt, the National Trust's deputy general counsel, stated that the SEA brought down the arena “after being repeatedly warned by local preservation groups and by the National Trust for Historic Preservation that the demolition might jeopardize the SEA’s eligibility for federal funds … because the SEA intended from the outset to apply for federal funds to redevelop the site after the historic arena was demolished.”

While Ms. Merritt didn’t call for the Economic Development Administration to deny $3 million in funding in her letter, she said the agency is required under federal law to look into the SEA’s actions and determine whether anticipatory demolition occurred and “whether special circumstances may justify approving the grant, notwithstanding the actions of the applicants to intentionally destroy the historic Civic Arena.” Those circumstances could include extra mitigation efforts.

In a response, Mary Conturo, SEA executive director, called the National Trust's claims “groundless.” She said the SEA had no intention of avoiding the section 106 requirements and that it welcomed the involvement of historic preservation agencies and groups in discussing the arena’s fate.

“In fact, the SEA sought to initiate a section 106 consultation process, but because no federal funding had been identified, there was no basis for any federal agency to conduct section 106 consultation,” she wrote. “The SEA reached a decision to demolish the Civic Arena only after an eight-month process that involved a wide range of stakeholders and included numerous opportunities for public comment.”

The SEA needs at least $30 million to fund the roads and utilities required at the arena site. It has $15 million from the state. In addition to the $3 million Economic Development Administration grant, it is seeking more than $15 million in the latest round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants. The SEA lost out on TIGER grant funding last year.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

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