Work to begin soon on new arena

Authority awards contracts worth $52.6 million

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Construction of the new arena is nearing its start with the award of nearly $52.6 million in contracts yesterday by the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority board.

Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo said afterward that contractors should begin mobilizing at the site, at Fifth Avenue and Washington Place, by mid-month. Earth-moving work should begin at the end of the month or early in August, she said.

The five contracts awarded yesterday were the first related to the actual construction, signaling yet another milestone in the Penguins' march to a new building to replace their current home, Mellon Arena, the oldest in the National Hockey League.

As if to underscore the arena's age, the authority board also authorized up to $45,000 in reimbursements yesterday to the team and arena manager SMG for repairs to leaks in the piping used to make ice and to deteriorating sidewalks.

Of the five construction contracts, the largest, at $33.4 million, went to Canam Steel Corp. for structural steel. Sidley Precast won a $5.8 million contract for precast concrete and Noralco Corp. received a $6.16 million award for grading and leveling.

Another $3.4 million contract was awarded to Brayman Construction Corp. for caissons and Schindler Elevator won a $3.7 million contract for elevators and escalators.

Ms. Conturo said the first construction-related work would involve leveling off and shaping the site to fit the arena dimensions. That will be followed a month later by the caisson work.

The $52.6 million in contracts represents about 25 percent of the construction budget. Ms. Conturo said the overall project cost still ranges between $290 million to $310 million.

She added that the structural steel, precast concrete and elevator contracts have "design assist elements," meaning that the contractors will be working with HOK Sport, the building architect, upfront to "make the project more efficient" and keep costs under control.

With the awards, Ms. Conturo said the arena is still on schedule to be completed by the start of the 2010-11 hockey season.

At the same time, she said Detroit businessman Don Barden's struggles to secure financing for his North Shore casino would have no impact on the arena project.

Mr. Barden has committed to providing $7.5 million a year for 30 years to finance the project, but his payments are not scheduled to start until fall 2009, Ms. Conturo said.

She added that all of the financing needed for construction is in place. "The package is done. The cash has been invested and is available to pay [for the construction]," she said.

If Mr. Barden is unable to complete his financing or to make his payments, Ms. Conturo said there are leases and subleases in place with the state that serve as a "backstop."

"Right now we've got the letter agreement with the operator. We expect to have a final agreement with the operator. The commonwealth has been working with us to get that all put in place," she said.

The Penguins declined comment yesterday on the contract awards. A formal groundbreaking likely will be held next month.

Also yesterday, the authority board approved the sale of a vacant lot on Federal Street on the North Side to Kratsa Properties for $500,000.

Kratsa is planning to build a 10-story, 135-room Holiday Inn Express hotel at the site. Work on the hotel is expected to begin next year and be completed in 2010.

The site is across the street from the Kratsa-built SpringHill Suites hotel adjacent to PNC Park and just a short walk from another Kratsa development, a Residence Inn now under construction.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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