Dialogue is beginning to intensify in the City of Pittsburgh regarding the future use of the Mellon Arena site. Since the Penguins ownership broke ground on the new Consol Energy Center, we all knew the day would eventually come when we would no longer need Mellon Arena. Not surprisingly, during the Consol Energy Center’s construction period, we were all too distracted with what was going on with the team to think much about the future of the building. Now that the last game has been played and all the championship banners have been taken down, we are now faced with an empty building and vacant parking lot.
City officials, residents and developers are asking questions regarding what to do next with what is undoubtedly the City’s most compelling and valuable piece of property. The land use battle has begun and the rest of us are left aligning sides in the debate: GTOG takes sides after the jump…
Do we save the Igloo? If we save it, we keep a beautiful and historic city landmark filled with local sports history, and we maintain an iconic structure in the Pittsburgh landscape. However at what cost? How can we realistically reuse the Igloo to make anything functional or logical? How many economically sustainable things can you do with a giant, old, functionally obsolete hollow dome? Remember how rampantly unsuccessful East Liberty’s Motor Square Garden project was?
Or do we bulldoze? If we do we make way for an exciting new project that will create new jobs, increased commercial synergy with Downtown, the Consol Energy Center and the Hill District, and utilize a prime piece of Downtown real estate. Unfortunately, this too comes at a high price. Is it worth destroying one of Pittsburgh’s famed landmarks only to make way for some developer's generic retail concept equipped with a McFadden’s Saloon or Cheesecake factory restaurant? These only cater to the game day crowds at Consol and really serve no higher civic function. We already have this kind of development on the North Shore and at other stadium outposts in cities across America, and be honest, who actually cares about those places anyway? Something will eventually happen to this site whether you like it or not.
As much as it hurts me and other Penguins fans to say this…we have to tear down the Igloo, and we have to tear it down quickly. I say this because the Mellon Arena site is too valuable, and the opportunity to create something great is too exciting to be left on hold or squandered entirely. Taking the exact opposite stance as GTOG is State Senator Jim Ferlo, who has requested a two year “cooling off period” in which to consider alternative uses for the building. Can someone please tell Jim Ferlo that the people in the city out of work and looking of jobs, the developers looking to build and revitalize the Hill District, and the community residents looking for new places to live, work, and shop DO NOT want to stare at a massive empty building and parking lot for another two years?
That leaves the question of what do we build and why? There are a lot of people with different development agendas; however it is possible to think that the Mellon Arena site can be used to build something that embraces the best elements of all ideas in a very economically and socially stimulating way.
One of the Penguins organization’s most laudable efforts is its outreach to young people (ie. student rush tickets, youth hockey development programs, the outdoor screen, etc.). This has strongly promoted the game of hockey to young people throughout Western Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, for a city that has been so impacted by the “Mario Lemieux Effect” it seems we are only taking advantage of a fraction of the youth hockey playing population due to the lack of a centrally located and convenient city ice rink.
Step #1: We build a new, cutting edge, LEED certified Pittsburgh Penguins All City Ice Arena
Forget reusing Mellon Arena, its time has passed. Let’s build a beautiful new ice rink that will be the home to all City Public School teams. This will be the anchor of the new Mellon Arena site. If kids have a place to play, the more likely they will be to become involved in the sport, start teams, and promote Pittsburgh as a hockey hotbed in the US. Currently, Pittsburgh Public School’s hockey teams play outside the city, if even at all.
Additionally, the Penguins organization has done a great job in promoting their Hockey in the Hood Program as part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone campaign. Ironically, all of Hockey in the Hood’s programs take place at ice rinks very much outside of the “Hood.” Imagine how much easier it would be for local Hill District kids and other local city kids to walk, or take easily accessible public transportation to a centrally located place to play in the heart of the city. This would strongly benefit the Pittsburgh Public School’s youth hockey programs and create numerous athletic, employment, and social opportunities for Pittsburgh’s inner city kids. All the while, it helps Pittsburgh promote hockey to an entirely untapped faction of its youth population.
Step #2: The Penguins move their practice facility to the new All City Ice Arena and create a “Hockey Neighborhood”
Let's move away from Southpointe. By making the Lower Hill district THE place for Penguins hockey with the All City Ice Arena and the Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh can create an official “hockey neighborhood” in the city. Marketing crossover and national promotion of this hockey neighborhood concept would be a totally unique idea solely utilized by the Penguins. Local residents could come watch practices in a more central and commercially viable location.
Step #3: Actively recruit USA Hockey and other top national hockey organizations, trade groups, and associations to move their headquarters to the Lower Hill.
These headquarters can be built into a mixed use development project with (affordable) housing, retail and office space. This will provide a much needed commercial element to help sustain and compliment the high volume of traffic created by the All City Ice Arena and the Consol Energy Center. If the goal of the project is to create a massive neighborhood devoted to the commercialization and promotion of hockey, let’s incentivize the top hockey organizations to relocate here, making Pittsburgh the epicenter for hockey development in the US. Obviously various other office users and retailers would come to inhabit the project to make it more commercially viable; however the overall theme of the mixed use development would be geared towards the sport of hockey, athleticism, and competition.
Step #4: The Screen.
Step #5: The outside rink
Included as part of the All City Ice Arena and Town Center will be an outdoor rink, fully equipped with high tech lighting, heating, and seating for outdoor games in the winter. Imagine the allure of going to watch high school and college night games Winter Classic Style, with the creature comforts of an indoor rink and the supplemental restaurants and shopping to accompany a full night’s worth of social activity.
My intention here is to show how exciting a piece of property the Mellon Arena site is and what kind of creative potential it could have if redeveloped in a unique, fun and commercially viable way that engages all members of the community while promoting the Lower Hill's economy and Pittsburgh based hockey.
If Mayor Ravenstahl really wants to hijack the Hockeytown moniker from Detroit, now is the time we take it.
GTOG readers, what do you think?