Historic panel gives a reprieve to Igloo
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The Civic Arena has won a bit of a lifeline.
A bid to protect the 49-year-old landmark from demolition got a boost Wednesday when the city's historic review commission gave preliminary approval to its nomination as a city historic structure.
The 5-1 vote clears the way for a formal hearing Feb. 2 on the proposed designation, one opposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins and the arena's owner, the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority. John Jennings, acting chief of the city's Bureau of Building Inspection, cast the no vote.
Even as it gave preliminary approval, the commission stated that the decision was not a determination on the merits of the application for historic status filed by Hill District resident Eloise McDonald.
In fact, nine years ago, the commission gave preliminary approval to the arena's designation as a historic structure only to reject it in a final vote.
Nonetheless, Ms. McDonald said afterward that she was thinking "very positive" on the chances of getting a final vote in favor of the nomination. But she added it could be a tough sell since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who appoints historic review commission members, favors demolition.
"I'm going to stay optimistic to the final decision," she said. "But like I said, I know the politics of the game."
However, Ernie Hogan, the commission's acting chair, said afterward that the mayor is "not telling us what decision to make" on the nomination.
"We have a charter to uphold regarding preservation standards. That's all he's saying, do your job," Mr. Hogan said.
In arguing the case for the nomination, Ms. McDonald said the arena, with its retractable roof, is unique.
To tear it down would be "just awful," she said. "There's a lot of young kids, if they would ever see that dome open, there would be a whole lot more support for it. If you've never seen it open, you have no idea how extravagant and beautiful it is."
The preliminary finding is a setback for the SEA and the Penguins, who have the development rights to the land that includes the arena. The team wants to demolish the structure to make way for a residential, office and commercial development.
Travis Williams, the Penguins' senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel, declined comment on Wednesday's decision.
But Shawn Gallagher, an attorney for the SEA, said the agency does not believe the Igloo meets the criteria for historic status. Describing Ms. McDonald's nomination as "frivolous," he said the same criteria used to nominate the arena eight years ago -- and rejected -- is being used this time.
And while Ms. McDonald spoke of the marvel of the retractable roof, Mr. Gallagher said it "never really worked" and doesn't work anymore.
"It's not worthy of preservation," he said of the arena, adding it is costing the SEA and taxpayers about $65,000 a month to maintain it.
The Penguins moved from the arena to the Consol Energy Center across the street last summer.
Scott Leib, president of Preservation Pittsburgh, noted that state preservation officials have determined that the building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
"We're not trying to obstruct progress. We just have a totally different view of what progress is," he said.
Wednesday's vote prevents the SEA from demolishing the structure until a final determination is made on its status. However, the agency did not plan to start the razing until spring at the earliest.
Once the historic review commission has completed its work, the nomination must be considered by the city planning commission and city council before the arena's final fate is known.
First Published January 6, 2011 12:00 am