It could take nine months to decide Civic Arena fate

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Granted a stay of execution, the Civic Arena might not know its final fate for another nine months.

Under a timetable advanced Wednesday, City Council may not decide whether the silver-domed landmark at the base of the Hill District is worth saving until August or September.

But the schedule isn't sitting too well with the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the arena's owner. It plans to ask the city's Historic Review Commission to hold a special meeting this month to begin consideration of the nomination to designate the Igloo as a city historic structure.

Hill District resident Eloise McDonald nominated the arena for that status last week, in essence blocking a plan by SEA to start demolishing the building in April.

Under the timetable developed by the city historic preservation office, the historic review commission is scheduled to make a preliminary review of the nomination at its meeting Jan. 5. That will be followed by a public hearing Feb. 2 and a final vote and recommendation on the nomination March 2.

The nomination then goes to the planning commission, which voted 6-0 last week to approve the SEA's plans to demolish the arena. It could take at least another month before the planning commission forwards its recommendation to city council.

City law gives the two commissions up to five months to consider and make recommendations on a nomination.

City Council will have up to 120 days after receiving the nomination to vote on whether to designate the arena as a historic structure. If council takes its full allotment of days, it could push a final vote into August or September.

Mary Conturo, SEA executive director, said there's no need to take that much time.

"This is an issue that we've been working on for a long time now. There's been a lot of public review and comment on it. We think everybody would be prepared to move forward more quickly than the [current] schedule," she said.

Ms. Conturo said delays could increase carrying costs for the building, which have been running about $40,000 a month.

She wants the historic review commission to hold a special meeting this month to get the ball rolling or to bypass the preliminary review and go directly to the public hearing.

However, the commission rejected the latter idea Wednesday, denying the SEA request to forgo the first step in considering historic status and to move straight to a public hearing.

Acting chairman Ernie Hogan said the body wants to give Ms. McDonald, the nominator, a chance to weigh in on the matter.

Rob Pfaffmann, a local architect who is a leader in the fight to save and reuse the arena, said he also would oppose any attempt to shorten the schedule.

"We want them to follow the law," he said. "To cut the process short would be something we would object to vociferously."

Mr. Pfaffmann called the current timetable "reasonable." He said it would give his group, Reuse the Igloo, and others seeking to save the 49-year-old building time to recruit a developer for alternative uses for the structure.

At the same time, he is realistic about their chances, given that both the historic review and planning commissions are controlled by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who favors demolition.

"We're not optimistic. We are hoping ... a number of members will say this is more important than their seat on the commission," he said.

The SEA, with the support of the mayor and county Executive Dan Onorato, wants to raze the arena to clear the way for a residential, commercial and office development proposed by the Penguins.


Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. Staff writer Diana Nelson Jones contributed to this report.


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