Arena clock: The Penguins have limited time to develop

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Hundreds of new parking spaces just opened up for Downtown commuters, but it won't be good news if they are available for very long.

The spaces are on the site of the demolished Civic Arena, and their availability means that the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority has turned over some of the 28-acre tract to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The parcel contains 386 parking spaces, and another 400 slots are expected to be ready soon, but the ample parking is intended to be only temporary.

The ownership transfer starts the clock running for the team to move forward with more ambitious plans for the land.

The Penguins won development rights as part of a 2007 deal to build the team's new home, Consol Energy Center. The long-term goal is creation of 1,200 housing units, 600,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of commercial space.

That agreement gives the Penguins 10 years to develop the entire property, at the rate of 2.8 acres per year. The first piece must be started within two years. If the Penguins don't keep up with the timetable, the team could forfeit its rights to the parcels, which are in a prime location on the eastern edge of Downtown.

The team has hired the real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle to find developers and tenants for the land. The Penguins also are hoping the city will designate the site as a planned district, similar to the South Side Works on the Monongahela riverbank.

When the Civic Arena was built on the site, the project uprooted thousands of families, drove out hundreds of businesses and eliminated a big chunk of a historic Pittsburgh neighborhood. It's important to get this new development right, and now is the time to get started.

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