A neighborly gesture: Penguins reduce arena height, refine design

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The Penguins have tweaked the design of the new arena, slightly reducing its height and refining features to address neighborhood and city concerns, as they skate toward a late June construction start.

Architects detailed the changes and presented the latest renderings of the team's new home yesterday during a briefing before the city planning commission, which will hold a public hearing on the project in two weeks.

The two biggest revisions were made to address concerns voiced by some Hill District residents about the look of the arena's eastern facade and to accommodate requests for a pedestrian connection between arena entrances on Centre and Fifth avenues on the west side.

HOK Sport, the arena architect, has placed more windows on the facade's eastern side, facing the Hill, and added banners along Centre Avenue in an effort to make the building more appealing and to enliven its street presence.

"It will be much more animated, much more detailed," said Don Carter, president of Urban Design Associates, a local architectural firm assisting in the project.

Architects also have designed a public thoroughfare that will run between two of the main arena entrances, one on Centre and one on Fifth. The pathway will be situated between the Epiphany Church and the arena's 40- to 80-foot glass atrium facing Downtown.

Planners and the city's Contextual Design Advisory Panel had sought such a connection in earlier reviews of the arena plans. The Penguins at first objected, saying the church didn't want the pathway for safety reasons. The team now is considering a similar thoroughfare on the eastern side.

Among other changes, HOK has reduced the height of the arena by about 10 feet, to 163 feet at its highest point.

Wayne London, principal of HOK Sport, said the change was made primarily to "reduce the volume of the building so aesthetically it fit into the neighborhood a little bit better." It had the added benefit of cutting the overall cost of a project under a very tight budget.

With the changes, the project is on schedule toward a late June construction start. The timetable was aided last week by the implosion of the former St. Francis Central Hospital and the purchase of a small synagogue on Colwell Street by the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority. Both stood in the path of the new building.

"That pretty much clears the way for complete site preparation," Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan said.

The 18,500-seat arena is under a 24- to 25-month construction schedule. The Penguins intend to open it in time for the start of the 2010-11 hockey season.

The site also will include a 500-space parking garage.

The team is investigating the potential for a 125- to 150-room boutique-style hotel as part of the complex. It also is considering other potential uses at the site, including a community ice rink, parking and green space.

The public hearing on the arena project development plan is scheduled before the planning commission on April 8, followed by a vote on April 22.

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


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