Planners see arena design, but not new casino garage


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City planning commission members got their first look yesterday at plans for one project, the new $290 million arena, but still are waiting to see the revised design for another, a parking garage to be built as part of the North Shore casino.

Architects for the Penguins spent about 15 minutes reviewing drawings of the arena and addressing concerns in preparation for a public hearing on the project's master plan in two weeks.

At the start of the briefing, Wayne C. London, principal for HOK Sport, told the commission the Penguins were working with Pittsburgh officials to create a pedestrian thoroughfare from Centre to Fifth avenues, between the new arena and Epiphany Church.

The Contextual Design Advisory Panel, which makes recommendations to the planning commission, has urged the team to create such a connection. The Penguins had resisted, in part because of safety concerns expressed by the church.

One option being considered is creating an easement that would give the city ownership and responsibility for maintaining the walkway.

The most striking feature of the 18,500-seat arena will be a 40- to 80-foot glass atrium running from Centre to Fifth and facing Downtown. The team is exploring the idea of using some of the space for special events like parties and wedding receptions.

"It really becomes a jewel for the city," Mr. London said of the atrium.

The Penguins are planning an outdoor terrace on the Fifth Avenue side and a club for premium seat holders that also will have a view of Downtown.

In addition to the locker rooms for the Penguins and visiting teams, the new arena will feature four more dressing facilities for auxiliary and community events. Among the amenities for fans will be open concourses at each end where they can watch the action on the ice while buying food or drinks.

The Penguins have selected P.J. Dick Inc. of West Mifflin and Hunt Construction Group of Scottsdale, Ariz., as construction managers for the project.

As for the Majestic Star casino, owner Don Barden had reached agreement with city and Allegheny County leaders nearly three weeks ago over the design of the massive parking garage to be built behind it.

Representatives for Mr. Barden had no revised drawings to show the commission yesterday, but attorney Deborah Rouse said at the briefing the south side of the garage -- that facing the Ohio River -- would be dressed with the same perforated metal screening that is being used on the other sides.

The step is being taken to address concerns raised by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, county Chief Executive Dan Onorato and others that the garage, at nearly twice the height of the $450 million riverfront casino, could affect views of the city skyline from Mount Washington, the West End, the Fort Pitt Bridge and other areas.

Lisa Schroeder, executive director of the Riverlife Task Force, said after the briefing it was difficult to say what impact the screening would have without seeing revised renderings.

She added, however, that the agency's main concern has always been the size of the garage and its potential to dwarf the casino on one of the most prominent stretches of city riverfront. Ms. Schroeder said those concerns remain.

"We have an opportunity to do something that can add immeasurably to what is Pittsburgh's spectacular riverfront district. We think the casino can add to the mix. But we're concerned about a parking garage that overwhelms the site and presents itself to the river as the dominant land use," she said.

Ms. Schroeder said the task force is hoping that casino architects are considering "a variety of solutions" to address the imposing nature of the garage and to restore the "original balance" between the structure and the casino itself.

The garage became much more prominent after design changes were made that reduced the height of the casino from 85 feet to 60 feet and a 110-foot drum atrium, the building's signature piece, to 90 feet. The garage remained at 119 feet.

A public hearing on the design is scheduled Dec. 11.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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