Penguins delay arena opening until 2010

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There won't be any hockey nights -- or anything else -- in the new Pittsburgh arena until the fall of 2010.

The Penguins have decided to delay the opening of the building until the start of the 2010-11 season rather than rush to have it completed for at least a portion of the 2009-10 campaign.

Spokesman Tom McMillan said yesterday the team will lose a couple of months of revenue from the new building by delaying the opening, but in the end felt it was prudent to ensure quality design and construction.

"The right thing to do is to do it the right way," he said. "The matter of a few more months will enable us to do that."

After reaching agreement with state and local leaders in March to build a new arena and stay in Pittsburgh, team officials said they hoped to have the building ready during the 2009-10 season.

But Mr. McMillan said the more the team looked at it, the more it realized a more reasonable goal was the start of the 2010-11 season.

He said the additional time would allow the Penguins to check out more arenas for ideas and continue to participate in the process set up by the city to get public comment on the project and the development expected to take place around it.

The Penguins plan to break ground on the new arena next spring.

There's a chance it could open for an event or two before the hockey season, just as Heinz Field hosted an 'N Sync concert in August 2001 before the start of the Steelers season.

The new timetable isn't expected to increase the cost of the $290 million building. The city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority board has authorized a $325 million bond issue for the project. The authority hopes to close on the financing soon.

Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo said yesterday that most site preparation work for the new building, to be built between Fifth and Centre avenues near Mellon Arena, should be completed by October.

The exception will be St. Francis Central Hospital, which is undergoing asbestos abatement. Demolition is expected to start by November.

Ms. Conturo said it is possible to begin arena construction even while the hospital is being demolished, although that may not be an issue now that the Penguins don't anticipate a groundbreaking until the spring.

Authority board members authorized the hiring of Oxford Development Co. and the Chester Engineers yesterday to serve as their watchdog during the arena's design and construction.

The contract for the Oxford-Chester joint venture is estimated at $1.75 million. The Penguins, who will be the lead tenant in the new building, will be responsible for design and construction. They also will be responsible for operating and maintaining the arena and booking events. In exchange, they will get to keep all revenues. The sports authority will own the building.

Ms. Conturo said Oxford and Chester were selected from among seven firms that submitted proposals.

"They will be our oversight through the whole project," she said.

Also yesterday, the board approved a $478,000 contract, plus expenses, with Graves Architects Inc. to design a 500-space parking garage adjacent to the new arena. Ms. Conturo said the authority is anticipating that the Penguins will opt for the garage rather than a surface parking lot.

Under the March agreement to build the arena, the team had the option to increase its $3.6 million annual contribution toward construction by $500,000 a year to finance the garage.

Although the team has yet to make a final decision, it appears to be leaning toward the garage, Ms. Conturo said.

The board also authorized a $1 million change order in a contract with Abmech Inc. for additional asbestos removal work at the St. Francis hospital. The firm received a $1.5 million contract last March to remove asbestos and other environmental hazards from the building.


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


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