Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Arena Demolition: The Fix is In.

This sounded like an encouraging lead sentence for those who favor creative commercial re-use:

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation won't rush to judgment on the future of Mellon Arena. (P-G, Belko)

But it's belied by just about everything else in the article:

"We recognize the uniqueness of the building, but we also recognize that it was inflicted upon the Hill District; and the residents have made it a principle of their new plan that it not be there," Mr. Ziegler said. (ibid)

Not correct. We know the Community Benefits Agreement governing the process is neutral as to the Arena's final disposition. We know it states a directive to reconnect the street grid to Downtown, but we also know that no development blueprint as of yet does anything whatsoever to reconnect the street grid to Downtown, no matter how many times that phrase is repeated. It really is getting quite frustrating.

We know that State Rep. Jake Wheatley, for one, who represents the Hill District, has written during this conversation that looking at that arena is like seeing a Confederate flag flying over his neighborhood. We also know that development money is ready to be directed towards development projects scattered across the larger Hill District, the recipients of which will be chosen and influenced largely by the Mayor -- who openly favors demolition.

Mr. Ziegler said he could not address the group's plea for more time. "We'd like to see the process keep moving, but I don't know enough about it to comment," he said. (ibid)

It is ordinarily unlike the President of a historic preservation non-profit to be concerned about keeping a development project moving when dealing in matters of months. Elsewhere in the article we find "wait and see" may only mean this week or next.

While PHLF is taking a wait-and-see approach, Mr. Ziegler said it would not favor "saving a couple of roof leaves and putting a one-sided hotel underneath them," an apparent reference to Mr. Pfaffmann's proposal. "We don't support that. We just don't know how it would function economically," he said. (ibid)

Criticism of Pfaffmann and his notions always tend to include withering scorn and animosity. Wonder why that is?

ANALYSIS: Some folks desire to cash in on the actual process of demolishing the arena. Some folks desire to cash in on extending the cookie-cutter development underway that will take its place. Some folks desire to cash in on worthy projects elsewhere, and are happy to support the previously mentioned casher-inners in exchange if that will help.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm all about cashing in! But oughtn't we seriously consider cashing in on a unique and valuable amenity that already exists? What ever happened to waste not, want not? Pittsburgh deserves better than short-term thinking -- than slavishness to the expediency of right-this-second -- tarted up as an "evaluation process" where none exists. The Hill District deserves better than to be used with crass and untrue slogans.


  1. I guess, I have one question. Do you or most of the people advocating keeping this contraption currently live within a mile of it? Be honest. Do most of them even live in town?

    It's kind of interesting that the people who do, most of whom either do not drive or would prefer to not have to get in cars to get from the Hill just to the Downtown want the thing gone.

    The thing is absolutely amazing. Here we have one arena hole which lots of people considered so destructive replaced by two holes!

    I won't raise the morality of the stolen land since nobody cares about stuff like that anymore. However on a practical level, how do you think a city that already has so much non taxpaying and revenue generating land and so deep in the hole afford still more of it?

    Dude, the only word that comes to mind is idiot.

  2. Do you really think it's likely a solid commercial reuse of this building can be created? And I don't mean the kind of commercial like the "commercial stadiums" that require all these massive subsidies.

    Pittsburgh doesn't have significant populations near this thing (partly because of these very projects and policies) and it doesn't have a transit system worthy of the name to carry people to any further "attractions".

    What that means in practical terms is that almost any use would either be very ocassional, very poorly supported or require the massive amounts of parking that made the arena so destructive. I know that they can share some with the new arena but I doubt it will be enough.

    The honest fact is that your normal "cookie cutter" street grid type project has such a long history and is so common because it works. The South Side Works doesn't need a bailout. (in fact it's biggest flaw was underestimating housing demand)

    B.S. mega mall, Allegheny Center style crap and Lost in Space designs just do not fit with a small urban area in which land is at a premium.

    By the way, one rating agency called The Rivers Casino restructuring a "selective default" and it's quite possible payments to the SEA could fall short. Then things will get really interesting.

  3. @John:

    1. I honestly have no idea where "most of the people" advocating for it live, but I live within a mile. A fifteen minute walk. When I turn left at my front door I see it immediately, and as I walk Downtown it rises rather majestically over the hilltop. Not that the aesthetics of my view is a primary motivator.

    2. Although having the arena does not preclude a street grid any more than not having an arena provides for one, the fact is the current plan has the present streets continuing just two additional blocks and stopping cold at the crosstown expressway. There is no grid, there is no connection to Downtown. There is no grid, there is no connection to Downtown. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

    3. If you don't like the hotel and spinoff restaurants or whatever idea (I think if people keep misunderstanding Pfaffman's plan, Pfaffman must deserve some of the blame from a PR standpoint), how about a power plant? Solar or nuclear, both clean as a whistle, both supported by the current president, your choice. TONS and TONS of jobs, serious fill-this-city type job numbers, and you can First-Source all the support staff out to the neighborhood first. That's just off the top. It's hard to get good, creative, well-developed ideas if you don't look for them, with say an RFP, or studies that doesn't stop at, "But we believe it's silly and here is no math or supporting data".

  4. Let's be honest. The Arena demolition fix is in because the powers that be, Luke, Wheatley, Lavelle, want the Arena torn down. They don't care of the history of the Arena i.e., Pens Hockey, they only care of the Pre-History of the location. The 28 acre site needs to have some form of green space to be approved by zoning and planning, why not use that space under the footprint of the Igloo and make it a destination Park for all.
    Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. .... George Santayana

  5. It's a very ugly building and I think that is why you aren't getting much of a push to save it.

    I suppose I could get behind trying to save it if somebody could think of a use that would pay the costs of operating/maintaining it. And if someone could get the dome to open, because that is pretty cool.

  6. A power plant? Was that meant to be a joke of some kind? Gee, if I lived on the Hill, I wouldn't want a grocery store but a power plant would be great.

    You sort of let the cat out of the bag on that one. "Supported by the current president". Dude, rational business plans that actually work and make money don't have to be "supported by the president". or the mayor.What you are implying I guess is that you think there's some government cash for that.

    Just like the government cash that built the arena, and the horrible highway that does so much economic damage. The kind of cash that blew through the South Bronx or seperated Manchester from the River or blew through the center of the North Shore.

    How stimulating.

    The current president and the similar geniuses before him have put the country on the edge of total bankruptcy. The city is beyond bankrupt.

  7. @John: Are you suggesting that a nuclear power plant would not turn a profit? Because my impression is that energy is going for a premium right now. I mention the president because A) he does seem intent on encouraging clean domestic energy production so it'd probably be even more viable than otherwise -- lots of folks would probably bend over backward for us and B) he seems implicitly to be vouching for their safety (it's been 40 years since 3MI, they must have improved things a titch). For the record the Hill also needs a grocery store, but with the thousands of high-tech jobs and thousands of support jobs rolling in, THAT might actually become economically viable.

  8. a grocery store in the hill is already economically viable, have you ever been to the South Side Giant Eagle or to the Family Dollar on Centre ave?

  9. This suggestion if taken seriously is your free ticket to the rubber room of your choice.

    I'm not going to spend time refuting it other than to say there might be a reason major Nuclear Plants are not normally sited in the middle of cities--I mean right in the middle.

    Brother, this thing better bring lots of jobs--perhaps enough to make up for the total evacuation of The Downtown and South Side if not the whole city.

    I'm actually pretty bullish on Nuclear power but nobody in their right minds is thinking of something like this. In fact, the loan guarantees and the like are meant to make up for the vast decade long approval process plants usually have.

    In fact, Pittsburgh as a whole in case of a catostrophic emergency is almost impossible to evacuate.

    I sort of like you as kind of weird example of a true Yinzer mind in action. Could we have proposed a normal rail link to Cleveland or D.C.? No, instead it's a Maglev that costs even more just to go to the airport.

    In fact this bizarro mind is exactly what produced the Igloo in the first place and put it in this spot. Of course, at that time, people had less experience with the reality of these plans and might have had some excuse. At this point there is no excuse.

    By the way, Pittsburgh actually has quite a lot of good jobs, what it desperately lacks is normal livable neighborhoods with stores, normal streets, funtioning business districts and small things like playgrounds. Not surprisingly lots of people find it wiser to live out of town and not pay for the garbage thinking.

  10. Cross-posted from a comment I just left on John's own most recent blog entry, in which he bemoans Pittsburgh's low population density as an impediment to its livability and the viability of things like neighborhood grocery stores:

    "Talking about solving our density problem -- if only there was something we could install in the city center which would attract TENS of THOUSANDS of job seekers in one fell swoop --- something demanding high-tech, cutting-edge knowledge workers, and at the same time lots of security, clerical and service personnel... hmmm.

    The reason Pittsburgh once existed as the high density metropolis it is designed as, is because Pittsburgh once produced those monumentally important things which the nation required in great quantity. We can't bring that back with department stores. We need to get that bold Can-Do, or should I say CAN-MAKE spirit back. That's clean energy.

    CORRECTION: Up above I said it's been 40 yrs since 3MI and it's obviously been 30. But I'd ask how long it's been since a reactor problem of any kind, anywhere, taking into account how many they're building across Europe and elsewhere.

  11. ...what it desperately lacks is normal livable neighborhoods with stores, normal streets, funtioning business districts and small things like playgrounds.

    Try Squirrel Hill. Because of the topography, most of it is protected from radiation sources in the Uptown area.

  12. Anyway, my guess is that Pittsburgh used to be dense because energy was too expensive relative to income for most people to be able to afford to travel far (or to heat a large living space) and that Pittsburgh will only become significantly more dense when the price of energy goes back up.

  13. I was going to make a map just for fun. I bet the required security perimiter of a new nuclear power plant would make the footprint of the Civic Arena look like an outhouse.

    But I'm sure we could come up with some creative ideas for the requisite waste storage pools as well.

    Bram's idea would as added benefit solve the grocery store problem along the way... wouldn't be any space left for anything up there.. let alone a grocery store.

  14. Security perimeter? Rats.

    How about solar? Need much of a security perimeter for one of those dealies?

  15. Hazelwood? Probably more room, plus the river. I'm sure you need water. Plus it's still on the other side of the hill from me.

    (For solar power, you need sunshine. That's out.)

  16. The dense location of housing in the area is due to the fact that most of the housing here was built either by the steel mill owners or subsiiaries of the mill owners. This area is where the jobs were, back in the day the steel mills ruled everything, you got a job at the mill, you could afford to buy a house that was built by the mill.

  17. Yes, that's how places like The South Side and Lawrenceville were built but one can clearly see pretty good demand for that dense housing stock in that location today. The big dispute over the South Side Works now is that they legaly restricted Housing development below what the real demand turned out to be.

    Bram is putting out a very typical Yinzer myth here. Off course more jobs are great, but Pittsburgh already has lots and lots of jobs in pretty close proximity to the Hill either on the Bluff @ Duquesne or Downtown or up in Oakland.

    At sub minimum, there is demand for student housing and that's why both Point Park and The Art Institute are putting in dorms. Of course, the very existence of more people creates demand for local retail and service jobs.

    I attendended a conference in Youngstown in which The head of Duquesne laid out the schools plans to connect with the city. When I raised the idea that their Law school or some business programs would have fit in well in the area The new arena would be built, he sheepishly implied that the school had expressed some interest in the area but was rebuffed.

    The big problem is that horrible holes have been cut into the urban fabric for the massive footprint of facilities that were best not located there.

    In fact, one of the biggest problems on the Hill and Bluff is that there are insecure property rights and these areas are always used by the City or institutions like UPMC for more and more bizarre plans and parking lots.

    Honestly it's hard for an outsider to come to a conclusion other than that Black people just don't fit into the city's plans.

  18. John if you're going to hurl the term "Yinzer" around as a non-ironic insult, I hope you'll explain to us how you define it. Otherwise we're gonna suspect you for a Clevelandish saboteur.

  19. If you read my blog, you might know I'm from NYC, one of those oh so undesirable dense places nobody wants to live in. You know like the restaurant nobody goes to that's too crowded.

    The post you commented on was written by Karen Lillis, who like me (and we are not a couple) actually decided to move here and saw Pittsburgh's potential as a nice, affordable and potentially reasonably dense and convenient city.

    Neither of us have cars here.

  20. fyi... literal density map. It's a PDF so you can zoom in as well:


  21. Pittsburgh certainly seems dense to me, thought my background is very rural.

  22. @Briem- Aha! You're suggesting we put one in Frick Park! Brilliant! Though now it really does need a parking garage.