With the mayor leading the way, calls go out to raze Mellon Arena and reconnect the Hill District with Downtown
April 13, 2010 8:00 AM
Mellon Arena looms in the foreground as the new Consol Energy Center rises behind it.
By Mark Belko Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl won't stand between Mellon Arena and the wrecking ball.
Mr. Ravenstahl said Monday he believed that the arena must go as part of efforts to redevelop 28 acres of land and restore the street grid between the Hill District and Downtown.
"I believe that there is a better and higher reuse of that land than perhaps preserving that building. Now that may make some folks unhappy, but I also think it's the right thing to do for the future of the city," he said.
Both Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill, backed Mr. Ravenstahl's comments made during a visit to the Connelley Technical Institute and Adult Education Center in the neighborhood by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Philadelphia.
The politicians are seeking Mr. Specter's help in securing $28 million in federal funding -- $1.3 million this year -- to help rebuild street connections between the Hill and Downtown that were lost nearly half a century ago when arena was built.
Their views regarding the fate of the silver-domed landmark come as a blow to efforts by local preservationists who want to save and reuse the building, which is scheduled to be closed this summer when the new Consol Energy Center opens across the street.
Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Onorato appoint the members of the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority board, which ultimately will decide what happens with the Igloo.
While mindful of the historical review process now under way to consider potential alternatives to demolition, the mayor said he was not sure that any "make sense and are sustainable."
"In my opinion, I think we would be better served as a community and as a region if we redevelop that entire 28-acre parcel to create the 3,000-plus permanent jobs plus the construction jobs," he said.
Mr. Lavelle said he and the Hill community as a whole would like to see the arena taken down.
"I think it's important for the vitality of the neighborhood to reconnect it to Downtown," Mr. Lavelle said, calling the original arena development "a failed urban renewal plan."
However, Rob Pfaffmann, a Downtown architect seeking to save the Igloo, said there was no reason the city couldn't reuse the structure and still make the re-connections Mr. Ravenstahl wants.
In fact, if the mayor thinks the arena must be demolished to restore the street grid from the Hill, he suggested that the U.S. Steel Tower on Grant Street must go as well.
"A lot of people don't realize that Wylie Avenue, if you reconnected it now, you would have to take down the U.S. Steel building," he said.
Mr. Pfaffmann added that an economic analysis being done as part of the historical review will show that "keeping the [arena] may be an economic asset, reusing federal and state dollars more efficiently and providing a better amenity for the community."
The architect is pitching a plan to convert the arena into a community ice rink or maybe a Penguins practice facility, surrounded by shops, restaurants, a hotel and a small amphitheater. He said the proposal could save as much as $15 million to $22 million in infrastructure and demolition costs.
His plan also would reconnect Wylie Avenue to Downtown, but as a pedestrian way, not as a vehicular thoroughfare.
Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Onorato and Mr. Lavelle aren't the only ones who want to see Mellon Arena demolished. The Penguins also want the building razed as part of their plan to redevelop the 28 acres with offices, residences and shops.
A 2007 agreement involving the Penguins and the city, county and state, which was part of the deal to build a new arena, calls for the Igloo to be razed and the land used initially for parking and then redevelopment. The Penguins have development rights to all 28 acres, including the Mellon site.
Mr. Specter, who is running for re-election, did not take a position on whether the arena should stay or go. However, he threw his support behind the overall goal of re-establishing the street grid between Hill and Downtown.
He said that project and subsequent redevelopment could create 3,000 construction and 3,200 permanent jobs, which he described as "very attractive numbers" given the economic hard times.