As preservationists wage battle to save Igloo as historic
February 8, 2011 10:00 AM
A sign at a hearing on the future of the Mellon Arena area in August 2010.
By Mark Belko Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Even as the fate of the Civic Arena hangs in the balance, the Penguins are taking the first tentative steps in planning for the redevelopment to replace it.
The team met with city planning officials Monday to begin discussing the creation of a specially planned district to serve as the blueprint for developing housing, shops, offices, hotel rooms and parking on the 28-acre site that includes the arena.
Travis Williams, the Penguins' senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel, said the team was being prudent in planning for the redevelopment even though it is not certain the Igloo will come down.
He said the planning process could take nine months or more. If the Penguins waited for a final decision on the arena before starting, it could push back the development of the land by at least another year, he said.
"We understand and respect [the historic review] process," he said. "We think that waiting until that is done doesn't make a whole lot of sense in terms of" being ready to start development once a decision has been made.
The Penguins secured development rights to the 28 acres as part of the 2007 deal with state, city and county leaders to build the Consol Energy Center and keep the team in Pittsburgh.
As part of the agreement, the 49-year-old arena was targeted for demolition. But local preservationists and others who see the Igloo as a one-of-a-kind structure are waging a battle to try to secure a city historic designation for it, which effectively would block its destruction.
City planning director Noor Ismail said the zoning pre-application meeting held Monday was designed to acquaint the team officials with the planning process and the various agencies that would be involved.
"This is sort of a one-time thing," she said. "It is just a cursory review of what they want to achieve and what needs to be done."
Joanna Doven, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, said the pre-application meetings are designed to "cut through red tape" and to make sure the developer and the various agencies involved in the planning are all on the same page.
In their conceptual plans for the site, the Penguins envision a mixed residential, commercial and office development that would stretch from Crawford Square to Washington Place.
Preliminary estimates provide for 1,191 residential units -- a mix of apartments, townhouses and single family homes -- 208,750 square feet of commercial space, 606,000 square feet of office space, a 150-room hotel, 2,215 parking spaces, and 5.8 acres of open space.
The Penguins hope to get approval from the planning commission and city council to designate the 28 acres a specially planned district, similar to those that have been created for the SouthSide Works complex on the South Side and Pittsburgh Technology Center on Second Avenue in South Oakland.
A specially planned district gives a developer more flexibility than a formal master plan in filling specific parcels, although each project still must be brought before the city for approval.
The 28 acres includes not only the arena property but also the 9.5-acre Melody Tent site near Crawford Square, owned by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. Under the agreement with state and local leaders, the Penguins must develop at least 2.8 acres annually for 10 years or lose the rights to the land.
However, the early planning is drawing criticism from Rob Pfaffmann, the local architect who heads Reuse the Igloo, one of the groups seeking to save the arena.
He said the Penguins should be engaged in a planning process that incorporates not only the 28 acres, but also a proposed master plan for the Hill and possible alternative reuses for the arena, with the goal being to find consensus. That would serve as a much more "holistic" approach that would provide for more coordinated development, he said. That process could be tailored to allow for the demolition of the arena if various reuse proposals prove to be unattainable.
He said the Penguins, on the other hand, are employing a "divide and conquer" strategy rather than trying to build consensus.
"Piecemeal is not planning," he said.
Mr. Williams said the team did intend to meet with representatives from the Hill and other stakeholders to get their thoughts on redeveloping the arena site, but that it was too premature to do that at this point. Monday's meeting was "just really a planning meeting for the planning. This is not the stage to sit down and start talking to various stakeholders."
Nonetheless, one thing the Penguins don't intend to do is incorporate arena reuse proposals in any blueprint for redeveloping the property. The Penguins, he said, "firmly believe no viable reuse alternative" exists.
"It's clearly our intention to develop the land. We're obligated to do so legally, and we feel it's the right thing to do," Mr. Williams said.