At first, plans put green in place of Igloo

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A one-of-a-kind silver dome will give way to green space, at least at first, once the 49-year-old Civic Arena has been demolished.

City planning commission members on Tuesday got their first glimpse of plans for the property after the arena, with its retractable roof, is razed to make way for a Penguins-led redevelopment.

Also on Tuesday, members heard about plans for a 44-unit apartment building on Fifth Avenue near the Birmingham Bridge, the first phase of an ambitious project known as the Oakland Portal that also includes three office buildings and a hotel.

The arena briefing did not include any information on how the structure itself would be demolished.

Instead, Ben Kelley, development manager for Oxford Development Co., consultant to the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the arena's owner, discussed what would be done with the property once the building was removed.

Mr. Kelley said the 3.1-acre site would be graded and seeded and that parking lots east and west of the arena would be retained. Grass will grow where hockey players once skated and the area will be open to pedestrians, he said.

However, the plans did little to appease at least one critic of the proposed demolition, who accused the SEA of being less than honest about its true intentions.

Rob Pfaffmann, the local architect who is trying to save the Igloo, noted that under the Penguins' agreement with the city, county and state to build the Consol Energy Center, the Civic Arena site can be used for parking once the demolition has been completed.

"They know what they're going to do. They're just not talking about it," he said. "They're really not being honest. They're not being transparent about their ultimate intent to put parking on this site."

Mr. Pfaffmann argued the SEA was avoiding the topic because new parking at the location would require a zoning variance under city law, which could take three to six months.

The SEA, he said, should have sought the variance first before coming before the planning commission to get approval for the demolition. Under city law, demolitions Downtown must be approved by the planning commission.

Doug Straley, SEA project executive, said the agency was not trying to avoid anything. Acknowledging the land would eventually be used for parking, he said the SEA won't know a final configuration until after the demolition and will seek a variance at that time.

"It's premature to give anything to planning until we work through those issues," he said.

Mr. Pfaffmann also complained about the commission scheduling the public hearing on the proposed demolition on Nov. 23, two days before Thanksgiving.

"It is as predicted -- they're slamming it down our throats," he said. "Having a public hearing on an issue of this magnitude two days before Thanksgiving is obviously not a very transparent and democratic thing to do."

Developer Lou Molnar, meanwhile, hopes to begin construction of the 44-unit apartment building in Oakland by early December, said Felix A. Cardella III, president of TKA Architects.

The $11 million first phase also would feature a second apartment building with 60 units. The apartments will be marketed to young professionals, ages 25-40, including doctors, nurses, university employees, and perhaps Downtown workers.

Also planned for the sprawling site are three office buildings on land bordered by Fifth and Forbes avenues at the entrance to Oakland. All would feature underground parking. The proposal also includes a six-story hotel to be built on top of one of the office buildings.

Commission members also heard proposals for a 12-story 80-unit hotel on Fort Pitt Boulevard at Cherry Way and a six-story, 136-room extended stay hotel at SouthSide Works. Members raised design concerns about both proposals.


Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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