As part of the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ $290 million arena deal back in 2007, for which the team put in only about one-fifth of the costs (the rest came from the state and a company that got a state casino license in exchange), owner Mario Lemieux got development rights to the site of the team’s old arena. Which he still hasn’t developed yet, and which he may now demand more public subsidies for, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The Penguins have been talking to various city and county officials, including members of [Mayor-elect Bill] Peduto’s staff, about the implications involved in increasing the level of affordable housing from 20 to 30 percent. They have said it likely would require some form of public aid to bridge the funding gap.
“If you’re going to add affordable housing to the project, it generally requires some form of subsidy,” [Penguins COO Travis] Williams said.
That could pose a challenge for Mr. Peduto, who has been trying to limit the amount of public money that goes into the development.
If the Penguins don’t build something there by the year 2017, they lose the development rights, so it seems like Peduto would actually be bargaining from a position of strength here. At least until Lemieux threatens to move the housing to Kansas City.
On the heels of the Steelers‘ Super Bowl defeat, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has rapidly shifted gears, making yesterday’s lead the future of the Mellon Arena, a facility that has not been used since June 2010.
The arena, initially called the Civic Arena until a naming rights deal was struck with a financial services firm, was the production location of that all-time film classic, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. The Penguins moved into the new Consol Arena in August 2010, after receiving developmental rights to the old arena property in a 2007 deal with state, city, and county officials.
Though the Sports and Exhibition Authority voted unanimously on September 16, 2010 to have the arena demolished, a group of preservationists has remained a fly in the ointment, and at least one board member said the authority’s decision does not have to be final if someone proposes a better idea. That has given opponents of demolition some hope, but the meetings underway now are likely to lead to eventual demolition, unless there is a dramatic public outcry. The historic preservationists look at the lack of a highly specific plan to move forward as an opportunity to gain landmark status for the arena, which was built with a retractable roof before any other arena or stadium tried the idea.
According to the Post-Gazette, the planning process could take nine months or more, suggesting that the Penguins don’t have a too much of a game plan as to what to do here. A spokesperson for Pittsburgh’s mayor said that these “pre-application” meetings were established to “cut through red tape” and ensure that developers and the various agencies involved are on the same page. Historic preservationists were not mentioned in that part of the story, though. That may mean a wrecking ball will soon follow, but stay tuned.
There’s a brewing preservation mini-controversy in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins want to raze their old home, Mellon Arena, and replace it with housing, offices, stores, and restaurants, while preservationists want to gut it and turn it into … housing, offices, stores, and restaurants. A city economic impact report says that demolition would be the better option, but an architect who wants to save the arena calls the analysis “incomplete.”
Without even attempting to determine who’s right here, I’d just like to say that having been to the hollowed-out remnants of the Montreal Forum, it’s hard for me to get too excited about the prospect of saving only the shell of an arena. Especially if it involves plastic fans.