Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Penguins' Redevelopment Concept to be Scrutinized, Discovered

Haven't seen a good must-read news article in a while, but this Adam Brandolph joint qualifies with credits to spare.

The report by 4Ward Planning says the Penguins' plan to add 600,000 square feet of office space around the new arena likely would pull tenants from Downtown office buildings, create vacancies and ultimately drive down rents throughout the city.

It predicts the 209,000 square feet of proposed retail space -- including eight restaurants roughly the size of SouthSide Works' Cheesecake Factory -- would take away business from existing merchants, and the 16-screen movie theater would saturate the area. (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

First of all, there must be some miscommunication, right? That has to be eight commercial lots the size of the Cheesecake Factory, some of which will be used for restaurants, correct? Because who's going to eat at these, are we also installing a new Army barracks?

Either way, the general idea of the report commissioned by the preservationists -- aside from critiquing previous studies commissioned by the Pens and the SEA -- is that this new sprawling complex could theoretically napalm everything between Stanwix and Wood, and then everything to either side of Piatt Place until we hit Smithfield. Which might be the plan, who knows.

And then there's this:

"We believe in the potential for economic development here," McMillan said. "We've always thought the best use for the 28 acres is to bring down the obsolete arena, restore the historic street grid between the Lower Hill and Downtown, and create a tremendous development opportunity for the city and the region." (ibid)

The historic street grid featured twice as many streets -- hence these eight much larger proposed new blocks -- and the historic streets would plow through straight the U.S. Steel Building and One Bigelow Square. But let's say the vectors of these connections to Downtown can be reconnoitered.

There's been some official talk about "ultimately making the Crosstown Expressway a tunnel". If the restoration of blah blah blah Downtown is part and parcel to the logic of demolition, we should start examining the nuts and bolts of that ambitious undertaking. How much would it cost? What would it look like physically? What is the time line? Who would pay for it -- the Penguins, the government, maybe a yet-to-be-conceived-of P3?

If this is the plan -- and in pure theory, it would be pretty bonkers fantastic -- then let's really treat it as part of the plan. As it stands, all of the official drawings get kind of vague at just that point before petering out near the border of the page.


  1. No monorail? Somebody is half-assing this thing.

  2. The Penguins' sketches have included a deck over part of Crosstown. I assume they would do it like the one in Dallas, so you could look at that project for some sense of how it would work and costs:


    Anyway, the 4Ward presentation is here:


    (note the deck in the drawing on Slide 3)

    There are some strange things in their approach. In reviewing the AECOM study, they cherry-pick quotes and take them out of context. You can read the full AECOM study here:


    They do catch some mathematical errors, which is fair enough. But their analysis of possible absorbtion rates is really thin, and basically relies on the aforementioned selective quotation without dealing with the entire substance of the AECOM study.

    That said, this would undoubtedly be an attempt to get more of the residential, retail/entertainment, and office development in the Pittsburgh region over the next ten years to happen at this site, as opposed to out in the suburbs. I suspect from the City's perspective, that is a worthy goal.

  3. By the way, to lend some sense of proportion: I believe PNC Firstside was about 650,000 square feet, and the Mellon Client Service Center was about 750,000 square feet. So what 4Ward and Reuse the Igloo are basically arguing is that this site can't handle another new development of that scale, despite the decreasing vacancy rates and increasing rents both Downtown and Oakland (I believe Downtown's office vacancy rate has declined since the numbers AECOM used and 4Ward borrowed).

  4. Somebody needs to push down some of the student slums of South Oakland and build me a nicer office or a monorail to Squirrel Hill.

  5. BrianTH- Thanks for clarifying that that is a "deck"; I suppose that helps a bit to visualize what would be going on. Is this deck sturdy enough to support automobile traffic? I think that's what is indicated in the drawing. However, you'll notice those roads which traverse the deck fade away behind the skyscrapers; it's not clear where and how they connect to Downtown.

  6. As an aside, that rendering is awful and doesn't even match what is elsewhere in the Penguins' proposal in several crucial details, so take this all with a huge grain of salt.

    Anyway, I think what we are looking at there is mostly a deck over the space between the existing Bigelow and Centre bridges. Currently, on the Washington Place side there is a triangle of land being used for parking. Working west, there is then a channel for Crosstown, and finally a another triangular space on the Chatham Square side, which is currently green space and has a little valley and path in the middle that leads to a passage under Bigelow. It also looks like the deck would extend on the other side of Centre to the plaza around the Marriot, where a ramp from Washington Place to Crosstown is currently located (they may just have eliminated the ramp, which might be necessary since obviously it eventually reach street level).

    Decking this area probably wouldn't be that big of a deal, at least if they could use the current bridges for Centre and Bigelow. You shouldn't need any structure for the triangular parts on either end (and note the structures in the rendering seem to be largely restricted to those areas). The deck over the Crosstown channel would probably require the sort of approach Dallas took, which obviously allowed for the landscaping and amenities Dallas is planning.

    Costwise, the Dallas deck was budgeted for $49 million and is much bigger than this deck would be. On top of the deck cost you would have whatever costs for landscaping and amenities you added to the plan.

  7. Is the Penguins proposal elsewhere online? I haven't made it to an SEA meeting yet unfortunately, I'm not an "Interested Party", I'm striking out pretty good dealing directly and what I've seen in the papers has been of the level of detail being described.

  8. I think all the documents from the SEA process are available here:


    Here is the Penguins' proposal as I was referring to it, from Meeting #3:


    Around page 11 of 32, you can see a sketch of the deck appear.

    If you look at the block plans starting around page 18 (note again the deck, with the buildings on the non-deck part of the new block), and then visualize them in comparison to the overall renderings on page 2 and some other pages, they can't be reconciled in certain key areas. Which is strange.

  9. BrianTH- Ah, this is helpful.

    Assuming that the inconsistencies which you note (and fly over my head) can be reconciled, and assuming the deck manifests eventually, what we receive in terms of "reconnecting the historic street grid with Downtown" is a diagonal pedestrian path across the deck from today's Bedford Ave to today's Center Ave ... and I guess I still don't get what becomes of Bedford Ave itself, its car traffic and its northern sidewalk. Same stuff as today? I feel like some of these slides should extend all the way to Grant St -- they all treat "Downtown" as some kind of conceptual mush, like "Here there be dragons."

    Was hoping there'd be a solid link all the way over at 7th Ave to the Cultural District ... that'd be something. I think what we're seeing just points more flow in the direction of our present and only Center Ave link, which is sort of "hidden" from a lot of Downtown.

  10. "Downtown" as some kind of conceptual mush, like "Here there be dragons."

    Mostly just people who spit on the sidewalk.

    "detypart" was me getting confused.

  11. You heard it here first: we found out today that the $5 million request by Congressman Doyle for the "CAP" over the Crosstown Expressway is dead.

    Part of the money is being repurposed for the "Garden Passage" steps designed by landscape architect Walter Hood. This is being characterized as a "streetscape" project by the URA. There are two earmarks in committee now:

    FY 10: $973,000 (Casey) for the Garden Passage
    FY 11: $600,000 (Casey & Spector) for "Lower Hill Redevelopment Infrastructure"

    The thing to remember is this:

    It will take well north of FIVE MILLION to demolish the Igloo
    It will take $30 million to completely regrade and build the penguins proposed street grid (see my analysis here:


    So there is NO money in the pipeline for the 30 million because the new transportation bill must be utilized, (no more earmarks according to our sources). This puts $30 million at BEST in the 2012 budget and then two years to plan, design, engineer and approve the new grid.

    So we have plenty of time to get into the details and rhetoric about streetgrids BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO MONEY!!!

    If the demo the igloo prematurely, they will lose access to ANY future federal funds (the legal precedent of "anticipatory demolition")

    We expect that the SEA will say that they have "savings" on the new arena to pay for the demo themselves. If they do that, this is violation of "segmentation" provisions of section 106.

    Stay tuned for our counter proposal and game plan.

    Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP
    Reuse the Igloo!

  12. Yeah, at the actual point of contact with Downtown over Crosstown, there isn't going to be much "reconnecting" of streets going on, although I do think walking next to a park instead of a drop down to a highway will make a difference.

    But I think they are also referring to the proposed new/restored Wylie Avenue extension, which would go straight through the heart of the new development and also extend more or less straight over what is now Centre into Downtown. That would create the sort of clear, straight, visually-enticing, and pedestrian-friendly path from the Hill to Downtown that is lacking today. And if you look at the old photos, it does appear Wylie was the main path into Downtown back before the Arena development.

    Incidentally, one of the many strange things about the proposal is that at one point they seem to be suggesting they want to similarly extend Webster Avenue through the development site and into Downtown over what is now Bigelow. But then when you look at the block plans or the rendering, that Webster Avenue extension is missing. The blocks that would be formed between Wylie and Webster might be a little on the small side, and maybe having Wylie as the focus would work out well, but it is strange to me that they would apparently promote a Webster extension at one point only to abandon it later.

  13. "Somebody needs to push down some of the student slums of South Oakland and build me a nicer office or a monorail to Squirrel Hill."

    Yinz like to drink huh?

    That's pretty much the kind of thing they did to the Lower Hill.

    Yes, it would be very good if better but still dense or even more dense housing for students was in and near Oakland--this is after all where the schools are.

    I seriously doubt you advocate, pushing up the density level and building the big apartment buildings that would make a monorail to Squirrel Hill pay or make up for the lost housing. So I guess, you want even fewer city residents? (great plan!)Who would pay? perhaps raise taxes on the remaining residents? Great plan!

    And if that happens, where would you park the cars for all the new people commuting in?

    In case you didn't notice, there is still room for more offices as well as residential along Baum and Center and in East Liberty with little need to remove much of lasting value.

    Getting back to the plan here, I would have to look at it in more detail.

    Generally, there is likely a market for more office in that area as well as retail and resaurants. A set of movie theaters would be absolutely fantastic--even if it's a smaller group of say six screens.

    The general likely result of putting in new class A office space will be to put some presure on older, class B and C buildings.
    But, this as a whole may not be very bad, since some of those could be converted to first class apartment buildings. Demand for office is tight, so I doubt the net effect will be really bad.

    This is the process that happened in Lower Manhattan for example which now has a lot of residential where there once was almost none. Most of it is in old historic buildings once used for offices.

    Pittsburgh residents might be interested in visiting Lower Manhattan. Two rivers, come to a point--it might remind you of something. The big difference is that transit is king there and there are no stadiums.

    Warning to remaining Hill residents. If any of these plans start to work expect a push to make land grabs!

    I will look at this and get back with more thoughts.

  14. I do think, all the plans--except the idiotic "Reuse the Igloo one, start to point out the potential value of the area for retail and office space.

    Sadly, it was at least as valuable for potential residential too, but the general stadium car oriented cluster--f has sharply brought that potential down.

    I still haven't clicked ad looked at the linked proposal, but it sounds like the Penguins don't seem to think many folks will actually want to live next to their wonderful urban amenity.
    This speaks volumes as to it's bad location which does not add but subtracts value from the city.

  15. Yinz like to drink huh?


    I've also been spending more time walking through South Oakland and it is hard not to notice that it smells funny because there is so much trash around.

  16. Actually almost half of the proposed square footage would be residential (maybe more than half if you included related parking, green space, and the proposed community center). It hasn't been discussed much in this context because that was the one part of the Penguins' plan that 4Ward liked. And ironically, the amount of residential was the biggest single difference between the Penguins' plan and the Reuse plan, but I guess the Reuse people are going to be coming out with a new plan.

    All that said, if I was going to critique the Penguins' plan, I'd suggest they might want to reconsider some of the lower-density housing and related surface parking, which could allow for even more residential square footage and more total units.

  17. OK, I thought there was residential which the area desperately needs more of. I need to take time and look at this.

    I do have some doubt now about how many people will want to live directly in the face of the likely peak load game time parking and traffic hassles.

    MH, I thik we all can see that south Oakland can use some improvement. but the stupid "tear it down" thinking with no rational alternate plans is exactly what created the disaster of the Hill District.

    In both cases, there were areas that, while far from ideal, were filling a needed gap. There is a need for student housing near the schools as well as for more good office space. I say near the schools--so logistical headaches and costs are not created.

    The attitude coming out in that "tear it down and get me a nice office crap is off the wall."

    There's no serious thinking there about the city and the fate of the people pushed out and no serious plan.

  18. IMHO, the schools themselves need to take an active role in creating some supply of decent dense well planned housing.

    In the case of South Oakland, continuing the current situation is not in their interest. I'm not saying they have to pay for it all. Work with other developers. Think! this is lowering opportunities for everyone and wrecking the school's reputations.

    They are supposed to be the bastions of wisdom, research and brains but it just don't look that way.

  19. Rather than the monorail and the low speed Maglev -- I think it would be a blast to re-install Kennywood's TURNPIKE to the lower hill, with multiple stops. Then there would be a sure success with the re-connect with our auto hertige.

    Keep the Civic Arena! Besides, the Pens are seeking a practice ice in that area. Go figure.

  20. Nope. If at all possible, involve a train. You don't need to build a train in the end, but it needs to be in the initial plans along with 16 or more instances of the phrase "private-public partnership," an absurdly optimistic budget, and a drawing of an open public space where nobody is asking anybody for spare change.

  21. You also need space to lock six bikes and a too bland Italian restaurant.