Architect states case to preserve the Igloo

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Don't bury Mellon Arena just yet.

Rob Pfaffmann, a Downtown architect, yesterday took his battle to save the Igloo from the wrecking ball to the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, owner of the 48-year-old landmark.


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"This is going to be a long process. There is no need to rush the demolition of the arena," he told the SEA board. "I can make the argument to the Penguins ... that the economic advantage to keeping the arena is better than tearing it down."

Mellon Arena is set to come down after the Penguins open the Consol Energy Center across the street next September. Its razing is part of the Penguins' plan to redevelop the site and upper and lower parking lots -- 28 acres in all -- into a mix of office, residential and retail uses.

But the proposed demolition has drawn opposition from some preservationists, including Mr. Pfaffmann, principal of Pfaffmann + Associates. He urged the board to provide for a full public dialogue on the future of the arena, including potential reuses of the silver-domed structure formerly known as the Civic Arena.

"You have the responsibility to set a process that includes the community in the process. You haven't done that," he said. "We're going to make the same mistakes we made in 1954 [when Mellon Arena was being planned] if we have a hidden process that does not have proper transparency."

Mr. Pfaffmann is pitching a plan to transform the old arena into a community ice skating rink, or perhaps a Penguins practice facility, surrounded by restaurants, retail, a hotel, and a small amphitheater.

His plan calls for removing most of the arena's seating bowl but keeping the structure intact, including the retractable roof. He wants to reconnect Wylie Avenue in the Hill District with Downtown as a pedestrian greenway.

By reusing the arena, the Penguins may be able to secure historic tax credits for redevelopment of the land, he said. He also believes it would be more cost effective to use existing infrastructure than tearing everything down and starting anew.

Penguins President David Morehouse said the team is willing to talk to anyone with a "viable plan" to reuse the Igloo.

At the same time he pointed out the term sheet on the deal to build Consol Energy Center calls for demolition of Mellon Arena and "we're proceeding according to the agreement." He made it clear the team wasn't keen about keeping the old building.

"If you look around the country, there is not one example of a viable reuse of an arena or stadium. They become white elephants that taxpayers have to pay for over and over again," he said.

"The shrine of all stadiums, Yankee Stadium, was torn down. The shrine of all arenas, Boston Garden, was torn down. We're as nostalgic as the next guy, but reality will dictate what happens here."

Reusing Mellon Arena, Mr. Morehouse said, "probably" would prevent the team from restoring the street grid between Downtown and the Hill, one removed when the Igloo was built and now viewed as a mistake.

The Penguins' plan generally calls for mixed office, residential and retail development on the 28 acres. The land on which the arena sits would be used for parking until it is developed.

Mr. Morehouse said it is far too early in the planning to give more specific details about potential site uses. He said the team probably will wait until the new arena opens before seeking a developer.

Despite Mr. Pfaffmann's push to reuse the arena, Carl Redwood, convenor of the Hill District Consensus Group, said not all residents see it as worth salvaging.

To some it can "symbolize the destruction of the Hill District community," he said. "There are a lot of people who don't want to see any parts of the arena."

Despite such feelings, Mr. Redwood believes Mr. Pfaffmann's overall plan is "very interesting" and "worth looking at."

"It's important to draw on as many ideas as possible," he said. "We need all the plans in front of us so they can be compared."

The Hill, he stressed, must have a say in whatever proposals are put forward. He said Mr. Pfaffmann has done a good job of keeping Hill residents informed. He said the Hill has yet to see a formal plan from the Penguins.

Mr. Morehouse said it's too early for that. But, he added, the team has every intention of including the Hill leaders and residents and other stakeholders in the planning for the site, as he said it has done with the new arena construction.

SEA Executive Director Mary Conturo said after Mr. Pfaffmann spoke at the board meeting that there would be a public process on the proposed demolition.

The SEA board yesterday hired Oxford/Chester LLC at a cost not to exceed $277,180 to help in the master planning for the 28 acres, to conduct a hazardous materials investigation at the site, and to help coordinate the possible sale of arena assets.

As for whether the agency would consider a plan to save the structure, Ms. Conturo replied, "To this point there hasn't been any economically feasible reuse opportunities that we're aware of. That is something that will be explored in the process that is beginning now."

Mr. Pfaffmann lost a battle in 2003 to have Mellon Arena designated a city historic structure.


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


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