Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Arena Afternoon: Hearing Take-Aways

Two (2) points to make:

The team wants to see the arena demolished to make way for a mixed use development that would include offices, residences and entertainment. It also plans to restore the street grid that once connected the Hill and Downtown, destroyed when the Civic Arena was built. (P-G, Mark Belko)

As a prelude, let me opine that the mixed-use development which now appears on Penguins' stationary -- independent of the fact that it does not incorporate what I personally consider to be a potentially worthwhile asset -- it looks nice. I'm no expert, but sure, it seems like a serious and honest attempt to expand and invigorate a city neighborhood. If we do re-purpose the arena, I hope we adapt as much of that plan around it as possible.

But point one (1) -- much as I don't like to focus on reporting or criticize individual reporters -- this is really getting out of hand. The next time anybody publishes, "It also plans to restore the street grid that once connected the Hill and Downtown," it better be followed immediately by:

However, historic records, Google Earth, and the immutable laws of physics all show this not to be the case -- and to the extent that the Penguins' plans create a different, less connecting street grid, the same could be made to occur with all or part of the arena present. When asked to comment on the apparent contradiction, Mr. Morehouse said...

Otherwise, the reporter will be credulously facilitating the spread of false and emotionally potent propaganda as fact, and major combat operations against Mark Belko will finally commence.

Point two (2):

"This group has done a lot to criticize, but they haven't done anything to show what they could do and bring actual money and development into the discussion," Morehouse said of those who want to keep the arena. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

That seems to be precisely where the serious discussion is boiling down: if there is something worthwhile to be done with the Civic Arena, surely an investor would have bellied up to the bar already..

The logic of that contention fails, however, when one considers that neither the City nor the Authority has ever signaled its interest in soliciting such an investor, or such creativity. No developer would go out of his or her way to research, draft detailed plans, formulate budgets, and pitch something at us while nobody of official consequence on the ground has expressed interest in partnering.

Seeing as how the dialogue thus far has proceeded in terms of "preferred options" and "aggressive time frames" which "conflate" things, one can easily imagine a developer having already called somebody's telephone line, and being told, "Um, you know what? We're not really interested in going that way, thanks anyway. Can I interest you in the Allegheny Riverfront?"

In short, if the SEA does not issue an official RFP -- or an RFQ, whatever -- soliciting interest from the the wide world of investors in re-purposing the Civic Arena into a sufficiently profitable and community-friendly development within a realistic time frame, then the SEA will have signaled clearly to the world that it was never interested in exploring any notions of creative re-use.

That's my comment, Sen. Fontana, hope somebody brings it to your attention.

MORE: That's Church has a discussion going on about the boo-birds. I don't think they were "boo-ing", they were saying "Mooore-house", right?


  1. On (1), while I think some of the rhetoric is overblown, creating a straight, inviting, open Wylie Avenue extension through the heart of the site and over into Downtown would be a significant change. And you can't really do that if you have to pass it through a giant building along the way.

    On (2), I think you have to distinguish a plausible plan from actual financing agreements. The Penguins have presented a plan, and it at least seems plausible it could get financing. Despite years in which to formulate one, the Reuse people have yet to come up with a plausible plan.

    In fact they knew what the Penguins' plan looked like something like eight years ago, and they did come up with an alternative plan--it is just that no one much liked it or thought it would work. Then they promised to come up with a better plan. Now they seem to be saying somebody else should put a bunch of money into coming up with a plan, and that in general we should wait another X number of years to see if someone comes up with a plan.

    The thing is, I'm not at all persuaded the issue is a lack of money or time. I think the problem is that the Arena isn't much use as anything but an Arena, and it takes up a lot of space, and that is why any plan that leaves the Arena in place but doesn't use it as an arena is going to look pretty bad. They've had years to think about it and haven't come up with a brilliant idea, and financing or no, that seems pretty problematic for their case.

  2. I still think burning it for the insurance money is probably the most economically responsible plan.

  3. BrianTH - Except Wylie is not going into Downtown. Wylie is to spill into Center, which already goes Downtown. Were the entire arena to remain, Wylie could simply bend a block earlier and do the same thing; or in the case of partial preservation it might continue on the course presently mapped.

    My issue is precisely what you term merely "overblown" rhetoric -- not simply does it make the Pens plan sound like more than it is, but FAR more importantly it makes the presence of the arena seem to preclude all sorts of joyous things. If an interested party wants to overblow reality in a way that slanders their opposition on a central thread, fine, but call them on it.

    MH - At this point that would be suspicious. Maybe a couple years ago, sure.

  4. Ok Brian, give us a break:

    1. We have an honest to god proforma that requires reuse of demo moneys to start. It will be posted next week or so once we get the time and money to complete it and review it with Hill leaders.

    2. Holding costs are minimal if you hold 1 or two events as fundraisers with the DOME OPEN! hence the boos when he lied. My wife could not resist ;)

    3. Bottom line the building is fiscally sustainable and can financially improve the area during the years the Pens have nothing but parking lots!

    keep an eye on reusethigloo.org this weekend!

  5. Holding costs are minimal if you hold 1 or two events as fundraisers with the DOME OPEN!

    Do you have any numbers to support that? Because giant enclosed, fifty year-old structures are not known for being cheap on the upkeep. Especially when you want to operate a door that could accommodate the Goodyear blimp. Does holding costs include foregone property taxes?

  6. Open or closed, I think in this town you could sell tickets to cover band performances -- a Beatles cover band, a Doors cover band, and on and on and on -- and market them as "Time Warps" and garner a huge response for really minimal outlay ... even if it's raining indoors and the seats are falling apart. You could ask the police to enforce ordinances at historically accurate levels and draw an even bigger crowd.

    (MH - I trust numbers go into a "proforma").

  7. Bram,

    Wylie will actually line up with the part of Center that goes into Downtown (Center itself bends around the site). I'd like to see the plan emphasize that more, but looking down Wylie from the site you should be able to see a straight path all the way into Downtown (until it necessarily terminates as it reaches the Downtown street grid).

    I'm not sure what you mean by partial presentation . . . I don't see how you can develop Wylie Avenue as a normal open street with buildings on both sides along that alignment and keep anything of note from the Arena.


    I'm not unsympathetic to your cause, just skeptical.

    And in any event, I think you are unlikely to prove successful unless you can come up with a really good idea for reusing the Arena in the long run. I think you have actually trapped yourself a bit with your current tactics (arguing for delays, arguing against the very possibility of developing Greater Downtown to a significant degree, and so forth). I think you need a complete alternative vision if you want to get a significantly larger pool of people to rally behind you.

    But that is just my read on the situation.

  8. By the way, I'm willing to wait and see what the Reuse people post. But unless I am mistaken, Rob is saying their new reuse plan will depend on appropriating the demo money. But that isn't consistent with the idea of only reusing the Arena in this way in the earliest stages of developing the site, since eventually you will need to demo money unless the Arena becomes a permanent part of the plan.

    Assuming all that is correct, I think it again emphasizes the importance of the Reuse people coming up with an alternative long-term vision for the Arena.

  9. I don't know what goes into a proforma, but if accountants have smashed together 'pro forma' for their own purposes, I'm not happy about that for grammar reasons.

    Anyway, I’m sure somebody will have numbers because everybody has numbers. What I want are numbers good enough that you can see how far they have underestimated costs and overestimated revenue. There is the ordinary level of optimism that is required just to get out of bed in the morning and then there is the somebody-else’s-money-at-risk level of optimism that you see when digging tunnels under rivers or funding pensions paid for by other people.

  10. What is historic about this site is the neighborhood that was erased to build this monstrosity for a bunch of frog-canadiens on skates. TEAR IT DOWN AND RE_ESTABLISH THE STREET GRID!!

  11. Tear down Point State Park and rebuild Fort Duquesne and then we'll talk.

  12. Please let's avoid the use of ethnic slurs. Frankly another fantasy is to see a jazz club built somewhere in neutral border territory called "Québécois et New Orleans".

  13. Can I offer a suggestion--a sort of compromise between the two sides. What if we could keep a part of the igloo while shifting it's footprint enough to establish a new street grid?

    I imagine we can keep the black support structure and a slice of roof panel opposite of it. From there you can shift the "footprint" of the arena by creating a traffic circle. Within the circle, underneath the slice of the dome would be a traffic circle and park roughly the size of DuPont circle in DC.
    From that circle--call it Civic Circle (which civic circle park in the middle)--imagine a DC-like radial grid. Such a radial grid opens up all sorts of possibilities to restoring the grid. If anyone has been around Dupont Circle in DC, the park there is always alive in the day and the classic neighborhood surrounding it is full of business.
    With the circle and radial streets in place, you can now overlay the final east-west and north-south streets to complete a restored grid.
    Mr. Plaffman, maybe you can draw up how this would look, but i believe this would be an appropriate middle ground between what RUTI and the Penguins/city/county have in mind for the lower Hill. In fact, by embracing a traffic circle, i think it makes for an improved street grid.
    The truth is Mr. Plaffman, with the new arena, and the new venue next to Heinz Field, the city will have appropriate sized venues for all types of shows without the Igloo being used as one. I can't imagine a group that could do a show in these venues would even WANT to use a 50 year old building with limited capabilities.
    My idea preserves a part of the arena, but more as a monument than as a venue. I think if done right, the unique opportunities created by a traffic circle with a great, unique part in the middle, could be an incredible spot for the city. This would be a fitting preservation of the arena's legacy into the future.
    Your thoughts?

  14. Oh My Frickin' God! (h/t Church Lady) That Civic Circle Park idea is real intriguing.

    Regarding burning it down, don't laugh. Here's the last sentence on the state historical marker at Forbes Field:

    "Damaged by fire; razed in 1972."

    Remember that big Forbes Field conflagration? Me either. But what a good excuse for a demolition. Takes the powers-that-be (Pitt then, Pens now) off the hook too.

  15. We've been kicking around that arch-like memorial idea at another forum. Suffice it to say many of us find it intriguing. And in my view it is pretty flexible: you could do bigger or smaller circles, or just run straight streets on either side, and one right under it.

    One other thought I just had: I'm not sure it would make much difference in terms of footprint and street planning if you wanted to keep a section of the roof under the support as well as opposite it (the base of the support is pretty much the same width as one of the sections). Just another possible variation to consider.

  16. Especially if we keep a portion of it, but either way, I think it'd be appropriate to dedicate a portion of what we preserve to a small museum or at least a storytelling mural to American urban renewal. Tough story to tell, though. And to fund! "We'd like to ask you for funding to build a lasting monument to your failures. But on purpose this time."

  17. The Pens plausible plan is for surface parking for years into the future. That's it.

    Actual financing agreements for hosting High School Graduations fit on a napkin. The pee-wee hockey is a no brainer too. AND, what about the need and stated desires for a PENGUINS PRACTICE ICE? Go figure. They'll want to tear down the Civic Arena and then re-build a practice ice.