Board votes to demolish Civic Arena

The Civic Arena is headed for demolition.

The city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority voted unanimously this morning to proceed with steps necessary to raze the 49-year-old landmark to make way for a Penguins-led redevelopment.

The decision came despite last-ditch pleas by preservationists, led by the group Reuse the Igloo, to save the old building.

The vote occurred without any discussion from board members, prompting shouts of "Gestapo" from one member of the audience.

Mary Conturo, SEA executive director, said the agency now will start removing asbestos from the building and prepare bids for demolition, which could be ready by February.

The vote likely will trigger a court battle aimed at blocking the arena's destruction.

Architect Rob Pfaffmann, head of Reuse the Igloo, said the group would seek a court injunction at some point to block the demolition.

He described the historic review process leading up to the vote as a "sham," adding there seemed to be pressure since last March "to get the deal done."

"We didn't get a fair shake," he said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Pfaffmann attempted an 11th hour compromise at the meeting, urging the board to move ahead with "non-destructive elements" related to the demolition while giving the community time to continue to work on a reuse.

His suggestion fell on deaf ears.

In explaining how the board could vote on such a contentious issue without any discussion, board chairman Wayne Fontana, a state senator, said members had read and reviewed reports from both sides prior to the meeting and had listened to public testimony.

"I think I made a vote that was deliberative and that I was informed about," he said.

Mr. Fontana said that he voted in favor of demolition because of reports that indicated it would cost half a million dollars to mothball the structure.

However, opponents of the move said the SEA could run afoul of federal preservation law, which prevents "anticipatory demolition" of historic structures. If that is found, the SEA could lose all federal funding for redevelopment, including an effort to restore the street grid between the Hill District and Downtown.

Ms. Conturo said SEA lawyers are confident there is no violation of federal law.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

First Published September 16, 2010 2:45 PM


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