New arena design takes its lumps


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The design of the Penguins' new arena took some hard hits during a public hearing yesterday before the city planning commission.

Commission members and others panned parts of the proposed design, sending architects back to the drawing board two weeks before a final vote is scheduled.

"If I put a Home Depot sign on that, it looks like a Home Depot," local architect Rob Pfaffmann said of the Penguins' new home.

But Mr. Pfaffmann could be the least of the team's worries.

Several commission members, including Chairwoman Wrenna Watson, also raised concerns about elements of the design and said they wanted to see changes before they vote on the arena's project development plan.

Ms. Watson said she was concerned about the look of the east side of the arena facing Crawford Square, where she lives.

Although the Penguins previously had tweaked that side and added more glass because of complaints from Hill residents, Ms. Watson said she would like to see additional changes and perhaps more glass to make that side more appealing.

"I think we should have something a little more pleasant to look at than just the stone side of the building," she said.

Commission member Barbara Ernsberger agreed, saying portions of the building, to be built between Fifth and Centre avenues across from Mellon Arena, were too "flat looking."

"I don't think that hanging a few strips of pictures of the Penguins is going to be enough," she said.

Another commission member, developer Todd Reidbord, took issue with the arena's Fifth Avenue facade, particularly as it relates to the street level space allocated for retail.

He said the current design is too mall-like and too much "like Disneyland, where everything's exactly the same."

"Approving that, I think, would be a mistake because it doesn't work," he said.

Mr. Reidbord urged HOK Sport, the famed designer of sports palaces across the country, to vary the look and add more character to the individual storefronts. He also raised concerns about the design of a 500-space garage that will be built next to the arena, saying it looked "pretty generic."

"I know we can do a better job on that," he said.

If architects were dazed by the hard hits, they weren't showing it. Wayne London, principal of HOK Sport, said it's "not atypical to be asked to make revisions" in projects like the arena.

He said the changes requested by commission members can be made in the two weeks before a vote is scheduled.

"It might be a big tweak but it is still a tweak," he said.

Mr. London added that some of the concerns could disappear with time. He said, for example, the Penguins' plans for a future hotel or other type of development on Centre Avenue could create a more appealing look and shield the arena's east side from Crawford Square.

While he noted there are limits to how much architects can alter the exterior design without affecting plans for inside the arena or escalating the cost, Mr. London was confident the issues could be addressed.

"I'm positive that we can come up with a solution that addresses their concerns and still keeps us within budget," he said.

Another member, Barbara Mistick, took issue with the length of time it was taking to design a pedestrian connection along the arena's west side between Centre and Fifth.

She was told the project would need separate funding because the Penguins don't have money for it. But officials nonetheless expect it to be in place before the arena opens before the 2010-11 hockey season.

Also members of the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement Coalition urged the commission to delay a vote on the project development plan until they have a deal with city and Allegheny County leaders on benefits for Hill residents.

Carl Redwood, chair of the One Hill group, said the two sides are making progress but still don't have an agreement. "We hope we'll have one soon," he said.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published April 9, 2008 4:00 AM


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