Speakers debate future of Civic Arena

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Nearly 50 people had their say over the future of the Civic Arena today, but in the end no clear consensus emerged as to whether the silver-domed landmark should stay or go.

After more than two hours of testimony at a city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority meeting, speakers seemed to be fairly divided over whether the arena is an icon worth saving or an eyesore standing in the way of development.

Among those leading the charge to save the 49-year-old arena was state Sen. Jim Ferlo, who urged the SEA, which owns the structure, to declare a "two-year cooling off period" to develop a process to consider alternative reuses for the venue.

"What an embarrassing contradiction for city and county leaders to tout our green and sustainable initiatives, projecting new regional initiatives of sustainability principals and projects, yet are so quick to implement the self-serving and selfish demolition agenda of the Penguins organization," he said.

Proponents of preserving the arena also accused the SEA of rushing through a state process designed to consider alternative uses and warned that federal funding for any future development could be in jeopardy if the agency moves too quickly to demolish the building.

However, Penguins President David Morehouse, who was booed during his testimony, said the arena must go if the site is to be redeveloped for offices, residences and other mixed uses. He said developers have told the team that having to work around the building would be a huge impediment to redevelopment of the site. The Penguins have development rights over 28 acres of land that includes the arena.

"In the last 20 years, there have been 25 new NHL arenas, 25 NBA arenas, 22 Major League baseball ballparks, 22 NFL stadiums. An equal number of those arenas and stadiums have been demolished. The reason for that is because there's no real good economic viable reuse option for a structure of that size," he said.

Jack Shea, a top labor official in Pittsburgh, also testified in support of demolition, saying the subsequent redevelopment would create badly needed jobs in the region.

At the same time, several Hill District leaders argued that the future of the lower Hill site should not be left to developers, preservationists or the Penguins but to Hill residents themselves.

"We expect that Hill residents will benefit from all future lower Hill development. We will not support either plan if there are not clear benefits for Hill residents and businesses," said Carl Redwood of the Hill District Consensus Group.

After the meeting, SEA board chairman Wayne Fontana, a state senator, said no vote has been scheduled on whether to demolish the arena. He said he personally wanted to review the testimony and give the matter some thought before deciding what to do.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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