To no one’s surprise, the board of the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have opted to tear down the Civic Arena.
Carl Redwood, co-chair of the Hill Consensus Group, said though residents generally want the arena demolished, he doesn’t see any immediate benefit for the Hill.
But there is no immediate benefit if it remains either.
“If it remains a parking lot for years, as the preservationists say, it will benefit the Penguins, not the Hill,” he said. “But we have a clear set of development principles for the 28-acre site. We want some level of mixed-income housing, and we want Hill residents and businesses included in all new development. Basically, we don’t want to be displaced or ignored.”
Redwood said the Penguins have promised to do what they can to live up to those principles, but residents are focused on public safety which should have a bearing on development, but doesn’t seem to.
“The politicians and the SEA seem to have millions for corporations like the Penguins and their developers, but nothing for the community,” he said. “They have millions for demolition but say they don’t have resources to stop open drug sales on Centre Avenue or even put up cameras. Seniors from the Legacy can’t even sit at the bus stop.”
New Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter Aubrey Bruce, who was among those addressing the board before the vote, said he found it curious that the Pittsburgh Penguins called his idea of putting an Arena Football League team in the old arena “cockamamie,” then within weeks inked a deal to put a team in the Consol Energy Center.
Bruce, Reuse The Igloo founder Robert Pfaffmann, and Preservation Pittsburgh President Scott Leib all urged the board to delay a demolition decision because there are still zoning board hearings and other steps to follow before any demolition can take place.
“You can move on to technical studies, but you have time to do that,” said Pfaffmann. “You can sell the old seats for $100 a piece, and award your no-bid contracts—you have time. It wouldn’t cost you anything and it would give the community a chance to really participate.”
Pfaffmann also made sure the board had additional copies of an economic assessment on demolition versus adaptive reuse that had been presented by analyst Todd Poole at the Hill House two days earlier.
Penguins attorney Travis Williams said the team, which owns the development rights to the 28-acre site, has spoken with “several” national developers, but as yet has no deal. As such there is only a general plan for a mix of retail, office and housing space on the site.
Pfaffmann said there is no money for development and the site will remain a parking lot for years to come. He also presented a letter from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that said the authority, in failing to follow requirements to avoid “anticipatory demolition,” could be jeopardizing all federal funding, not only for demolition but also for any future development on the site.
Board chair and state Sen. Wayne Fontana said the board did not discuss the letter. In fact, he said there were no discussions at all prior to the vote.
“I can’t speak for them, but I imagine they felt there was nothing to discuss,” he said.
Pfaffmann said he is already meeting with attorneys and plans to file for an injunction to delay demolition.
“That’s typically the way these preservation battles go,” he said. “You lose every battle until a judge says stop, and then you win.”
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