Protesters rally to save the Civic Arena from demolition, singing "Happy Birthday" on the 50th anniversary of the building's opening.
Gretchen Haller of Mt. Lebanon, a member of Preservation Pittsburgh, reacts to statements made at a public forum on Monday about the proposed demolition of the Civic Arena
By Dan Majors Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Organizers of the effort to preserve the Civic Arena gathered outside the Uptown structure Monday evening, green balloons and signs in hand, to mark the building's 50th anniversary and to call attention to their cause.
They then crossed the street to Epiphany Catholic Church to address members of city council, the last hurdle standing between the arena and its demolition.
For months, members of Preservation Pittsburgh and Reuse the Igloo have decried efforts by the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority and the Penguins to raze the arena as part of a plan to develop the 28-acre site. But their attempt to have the arena designated a historic landmark have come up empty, first with the Historic Review Commission and then with the city planning commission.
City council, the third and final body to vote on the matter, took the issue up in the basement meeting room of the church with more than 100 people in attendance. Seventy of those who came signed up to speak before council President Darlene Harris and members Theresa Kail-Smith, Bruce Krause, Natalia Rudiak, and the Rev. Ricky Burgess, as well as R. Daniel Lavell, who represents the Hill District.
Council must act before Aug. 10.
The issue is a polarizing one, and many of the speakers -- and their arguments -- had been heard before.
Those trying to save the arena hail it and its retractable roof as an engineering marvel, an irreplaceable icon, a one-of-a-kind testament to Pittsburgh know-how.
The other side sees it as "more a symbol of genocide" than a civic treasure, an aging relic with bad pipes, lousy acoustics and high maintenance costs, the construction of which destroyed a vibrant neighborhood.
The points were made again and again. The roof is a wonder, but the building is antiquated. It's a singular part of the city skyline, but you can't really see it in many pictures. It's a part of the past, but is it part of the future?
SEA attorney Shawn Gallagher said a historic designation would make the arena "a mothballed monument," with increasing daily costs and no value.
But resident Nick Kyriazi said, "It's a beautiful building. You don't destroy things of beauty. At least you shouldn't."
David Morehouse, CEO of the Penguins, urged the council to take advantage of the "prime real estate" in such "a tremendous location."
"Let's embrace this phenomenal opportunity presented by this 28 acres," Mr. Morehouse said. "This is a rare moment for the city and the region for a chance for development that literally and figuratively will change the landscape. This is one of those moments. ... This kind of opportunity simply doesn't exist anywhere else in the country.
"Developers have told us unequivocally that this will not occur if the Civic Arena remains in place. It is key to tear down a building that has outlived its usefulness."
As he spoke, protesters waved signs saying "Not true."
Eloise McDonald, the Hill District resident who filed the application for historic status, called the arena a "wonder of Pittsburgh" and criticized officials who were permitting the removal of things from the building before the process was complete. She also asked the council members to have the arena roof opened again so people could again see what they risk losing.
"They're going to say they can't open it," she said. "There's a reason they don't want it open. It's spectacular."
Former council member Sala Udin, a resident of the Hill District who once lived where the arena was built, urged the council to reject the application.
"The demolition of my home along with 8,000 others in the 1950s and 1960s began a multigenerational wound," he said. "The redevelopment can begin a healing process to preserve the people, and I hope that once this arena is demolished we can depend on this entire preservation community to support the development of the people with the same vigor that you now support of the preservation of a building."
"Today is a sad day," said Aubrey Bruce. "I am amazed that the city of Pittsburgh has even allowed consideration of the demolition of the Civic Arena to proceed this far. The Civic Arena does not belong to the SEA or the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Civic Arena belongs to the people."
Author and professor Franklin Toker, who has written books on Pittsburgh's historic buildings, asked the council for two years, at the end of which, "if development is not under way, then tear it down."