After appeal's failure, demolition of Civic Arena may start Monday
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A federal appeals court refused to step in Friday to save the Civic Arena, clearing the way for the demolition of a building that has evoked both memories and epithets.
In a one-paragraph order, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion filed by Preservation Pittsburgh for an injunction in a last-ditch bid to halt the work.
The decision gives the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the Igloo's owner, the go-ahead to start the demolition of the 50-year-old landmark Monday morning.
"It's just a sad day. I think a lot of people are going to miss this building," said Scott Leib, president of Preservation Pittsburgh.
Preservation Pittsburgh sought an emergency injunction before the circuit court after U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone threw out the group's lawsuit aimed at blocking the razing.
It argued that the redevelopment of the arena's 28-acre Hill District site would require federal highway funds and therefore a federal review of the plan to demolish the historic building.
But Judge Cercone said the group failed to convince him that there would be any federal involvement in the project and that he lacked jurisdiction to halt the work.
In its order Friday, the circuit panel said it believed that Judge Cercone acted correctly in dismissing the lawsuit and that Preservation Pittsburgh failed to show that it was likely to succeed on the merits of its case.
Mr. Leib said the group always knew that the legal battle was "a long shot."
"The loophole for the SEA is that there is no federal action. Yet everybody knows there will be. When there is, we are still concerned that what the SEA is doing now is in fact anticipatory demolition," he said.
Beyond that, he said the razing of the Igloo "highlights an incredible lack of innovation and integrity by the leaders of our city."
"While some think demolition of the arena is fixing the problems of 50 years ago, I think history will show that in fact we are simply repeating those mistakes," he said. "Instead of honoring and celebrating the diverse fabric of the lower Hill District, we demolished it, and now the SEA is demolishing one of Pittsburgh's great modern structures from the 1960s."
Mr. Leib also said the process set up by the SEA to look for alternatives to demolition was flawed from the start because the agency had agreed to tear down the arena and give the Penguins development rights to the land on which it sat as part of the 2007 deal to keep the team in Pittsburgh.
"It was a David-and-Goliath situation," he said. "You can't fight city hall."
While preservationists described the arena as an engineering marvel worthy of reuse, many in the Hill were happy to see it go, viewing it as a symbol of failed urban renewal. Much of the lower Hill District was destroyed to make way for the building, and development promised around it never materialized.
With the litigation out of the way -- Preservation Pittsburgh does not intend to go to the U.S. Supreme Court -- SEA executive director Mary Conturo said contractor Bristol Environmental is free to start work on the demolition Monday.
"There is no impediment to stop him from working on the next phase, which is removing asbestos from the roof," she said. "There's nothing preventing us from continuing work."
Demolition will begin with the arena's most distinctive feature -- the stainless steel retractable roof. Crews will be removing the stainless steel panels to get to the asbestos that lurks beneath them.
Work will start at the very top of the dome and eventually move down the sides. SEA officials said people might not see much difference the first week, as workers make preparations to get to the roof.
At some point, however, "you're basically going to see the panels disappearing," said Doug Straley, SEA project executive.
The SEA hopes to have the asbestos removed by mid-January. By that time, all of the roof's stainless steel will be gone as well, exposing the structural steel used in constructing the dome.
Full demolition -- or more accurately, deconstruction -- should be completed by May.
The SEA is clearing the site for a residential, office and commercial development being proposed by the Penguins, who have yet to name a developer. The team hopes to build 1,200 units of housing, 600,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of commercial space on the 28 acres of land.
It declined comment on the circuit court ruling Friday.
"[The court decision] means that we're one step closer to bringing new jobs, new residents and expanding the tax base in Pittsburgh," said Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who supports the demolition.
But Mr. Leib fears that whatever ends up being built there won't be nearly as good as what could have been.
"We are taking a unique Pittsburgh destination and replacing it with ordinary," he said.
First Published September 24, 2011 12:00 am