Preservation Pittsburgh Announces Design Competition For Civic Arena -School of Architecture - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, July 26, 2010

Preservation Pittsburgh Announces Design Competition For Civic Arena

In Fall 2010, the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins franchise will move to the newly constructed Consol Energy Center, vacating the distinctive stainless steel dome of the Mellon Arena, formerly named the Civic Arena.  A growing number of concerned citizens and preservation groups, including Preservation Pittsburgh, believe that demolition is not the answer, and that the Civic Arena could be successfully repurposed.

“Through the power of imagination, we hope to engage the community and demonstrate to the local and state political leadership that the Arena should remain,” said Preservation Pittsburgh board member Peter Margittai.  “This design competition will provide a forum for those ideas and generate a dialogue about the adaptive reuse of the Civic Arena.”

Completed in 1961, the Civic Arena is sited on 28 acres of the Lower Hill District, a neighborhood adjacent to Downtown Pittsburgh. Its retractable dome pushed the limits of engineering and was originally built to house the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. It remains unique in the world as a distinct Pittsburgh icon for its technical achievements and innovation.  It is also eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But there is mixed public opinion about the history, significance, and symbolism of the Civic Arena. The Arena was among the first projects to introduce the national planning approach of Urban Renewal.  Its development demolished the Lower Hill District, displaced 8,000 residents, separated the historic Hill community from Downtown, and contributed to the economic collapse of the Hill District.

Three years ago, the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA) announced its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Pittsburgh Penguins regarding the construction of a new arena. Among other things, one of the terms listed in the MOU states, “Upon the opening of the new arena, the SEA, at its expense, shall promptly demolish Mellon Arena and pave, stripe and in all respects prepare the land under Mellon Arena for use as a parking lot. This use shall continue until the land under the Mellon Arena is developed. Upon completion of this work, the Penguins shall pay an additional $200,000/year over the life of the lease.”

The SEA made its agreement to demolish the Civic Arena without any public input. Scott Leib, President of Preservation Pittsburgh states, “We are doing what the SEA should have done years ago. We are hosting a design competition as a way to generate fresh ideas for how the Civic Arena can be reused.” Leib continues, “Preservation is a resource, not a roadblock, for great economic development. With necessary input from diverse communities, we believe a unique, stunning, economically viable destination can be created that will serve our region well into the future.”

Preservation Pittsburgh is seeking creative ideas for an adaptive reuse of the Civic Arena – a structure with conflicting legacies as both a monument to Pittsburgh’s engineering prowess and a symbol of past human injustices.  Complete registration information and submission requirements [Link].

Preservation Pittsburgh is a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to preserving our region's historic, architectural, cultural, and environmental heritage. Its purpose is to assist individuals and organizations in preserving the integrity of the architecture and physical surroundings they value.

By: Scott Leib