Rainy weather is making things messy for demolition of Civic Arena

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Elvis would flee from this building.

Three months after demolition of the iconic Uptown structure began in earnest, the Civic Arena looks a bit like Berlin after the war.

Whole sections of the Igloo have been stripped down to their moorings, which resemble giant meat hooks as seen from the press box. Much of the lower bowl is gone, with little more than concrete supports remaining on one side.

Mud and muck have replaced ice on the arena floor. A small hillside of rubble and crushed concrete sits at center ice, a perfect prop for the monster truck shows that once rumbled through the building.

Nearly all of the stainless steel has been peeled from the Igloo's retractable silver roof, exposing a rust-colored vapor barrier. Sheets of steel are stacked outside of Gate 1, waiting to be hauled to their eventual destination.


Some will go to a recycler, some to the Sen. John Heinz History Center, some to the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team and some to Wendell August Forge in Grove City to make into holiday ornaments.

Overall, the demolition -- the subject of controversy and court battles -- is nearly halfway complete, said Mike Barnard, project manager for Oxford Development Co., which is serving as representative for the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the building's owner.

By early May, the distinctive flying saucer-shaped structure opened in 1961 as an engineering marvel and closed in 2010 as an aging relic will be but a memory, filled and paved over to make way for future redevelopment.

The site could eventually be part of a 28-acre office, commercial, and residential complex proposed by the Penguins.

Next month, the arena's eight roof leaves will start to come down. Once they have been removed, the distinctive dome will be gone for good. Last to go will be the huge cantilever arm, one that arches 260 feet, that supported the roof.

Mr. Barnard said supports for the cantilever may be buried as deep as 60 feet into the ground. Crews won't go down that far. They will dig only as far as needed to grade the land.

Roof work, he said, has benefited from decent weather through the fall and most of December.

"We've been pretty lucky so far in guys being able to work pretty consistently," he said. "Relative to what December could be ... it hasn't hurt us."

Inside, much of the arena is now cold and damp. Water pools in some parts of the concourses. Segments of pipe are strewn about in one section. Utility lamps light a ramp leading to the press box.

Mike Maruschak, project engineer for Chester Engineers, which has teamed with Oxford, said the water, both in the concourse and on the arena floor, is a byproduct of the work removing the stainless steel from the roof.

"We no longer have a roof on this, so it's raining in the building," he said.

On the floor, a giant concrete processor sits on one side. It is being used to crush concrete into finer material that will serve as fill to grade the site once the building has been demolished.

Up above, half of the luxury suites are still intact, while the other half tumble away into rubble.

The press box remains and upper level sections D24, D26, D10, C11, D8 and D6 still look much the same as they did the night that James Taylor and Carole King closed the arena, albeit with a heavy coating of dust.

Crews working through the building have unearthed the hydraulics for a stage that was used after the Igloo first opened in 1961.

Despite such finds and the building's colorful history, Mr. Barnard, born and raised in Pittsburgh, isn't nostalgic about the arena's demise, saying it "has outlived its useful life."

"It's progress," he said when asked how he felt about seeing the arena torn apart. "There's a plan going forward. There are memories here, but you've got to move on."

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published December 23, 2011 5:00 AM


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