Civic Arena – Should it Stay or Go?

The Civic Arena is just screaming to get a post on this blog. Great building, great icon of Pittsburgh, great sports team inside it.

The current argument is, ‘It may ultimately be the best decision to demolish it, but let’s not rush it. Let’s take the time to make sure there’s not a good solution to develop in and around it.”

Alright, I may not agree with demolishing it next Tuesday. I suppose I’d rather see it standing than see asphalt for the three-plus years it will take all development parties involved to start any sort of new building project. Given the forceful opposition to progress in this city though, lets make that five-plus years.

The historical photos seen below are emotional, wonderful, inspiring, and makes one wish for a moment that the igloo would be around forever with that wonderful view opened up to the city’s skyline.

Then all of a sudden, I see the reaction of people to the new arena. Now, I know that the reaction of Yinzers going to see Paul McCartney is different than a designer’s point of view, because the new arena is pretty uninspiring from the exterior. However its interesting to see how quickly the Civic Arena became the used up toy that doesn’t flash as bright or make as much noise as the new toy…

I’ll keep my thoughts brief on what I actually think should happen. I’ve thought of them in list form, so I’m writing them that way.

-The land that this building occupies is the most important development land that any of us may ever see in Pittsburgh in our lifetimes. It can become the only true live-work district in the city, and be the catalyst for real revitalization of the downtown residential markets.

-I will be absolutely, positively stunned if any architect or developer comes up with any redevelopment proposal of the Arena itself that not just looks good, but can generate real revenue. It just doesn’t happen in buildings like this one. Money trumps ideas.

-If politicians, neighborhood groups, or anyone not designing or holding the development money have too much say, it will be a colossal failure and will never reach its potential in terms of what this NEEDS to be for Pittsburgh. This area is bigger than the revitalization of the Hill District. Its the catalyst for the growth of Pittsburgh.

-Probable timeline for the beloved Igloo: Whine, whine, whine, get a demo delay, find no profitable use, whine, demolition, big whine, urban planning, political influence, two years pass, and in 5-7 years the creation of the best district the city has ever seen. A whole new neighborhood is formed and becomes the only area of this city that resembles a progressive, large city district that will attract people back downtown to live, work, and play.

That’s what I hope, at least.

Edit: After reading the comment posted, I’m hoping that I did not come across at elitist in this post. Given my love of Rural Studio’s work and many other small neighborhood initiatives, I clearly do view architecture a social art. I absolutely do feel like the Hill District residents should benefit and be influential in the redevelopment of this area. I wouldn’t even disagree if the Hill residents were ultimately the ones to make the final decision if the Arena was demolished or not.

Although there is a surplus of open office and residential space in downtown currently, my belief is that this is due to a lack of basic amenities provided by the area. That goes to my point as to how important this area is – it can provide a new level of density that can house amenities that residential markets long for, and could spark a shift in population back towards the downtown triangle area.

Back to the Hill residents – I don’t think they should be the ONLY ones deciding what will be redeveloped here. For one, its too important of an area for downtown, to link back in to the Hill and recreate that neighborhood. Secondly, I can’t take a stance that says that communities can tell developers where and how to spend their money. If I was investing my own money here, I would have an understanding that I need to prioritize the community heavily, and make sure that the Hill residents benefit heavily from it. But I would in no way invest in the area if the community had ALL of the say. It doesn’t make financial sense.

I do agree whole heartedly with the end of the comment though: our mayor should be NOWHERE near this one.

1 Comment

Filed under Design, Pittsburgh, Uncategorized

One response to “Civic Arena – Should it Stay or Go?

  1. ne personne

    An important and complicated topic. Let’s add some relevant considerations:
    1. The arena is not downtown – it’s in the Hill District. The land was stolen 50 years ago and nearly 1,000 families were forced out. None of us would be too pleased if one day our own neighborhood looked like there was a nuclear Holocaust outside our front door, as seen here:

    In the name of the “public good” countless lives were ruined to provide entertainment (symphony) for upper class white people. The project failed and became a hockey arena for upper- and middle-class white people. The crosstown expressway (I 579) was built to facilitate development in the northern suburbs. This made getting downtown difficult and unpleasant for Hill residents and easy for mostly white suburbanites. At the end of the first period the score is: white people-3, black people-0.

    The future of this site should not be determined by politicians, developers, the SEA, you or me. The ultimate decision should rest with the people of the Hill District and no one else.

    2. The cost of developing the celebrated mixed-use street grid will be so high that developers will only see a return on investment if the housing and commercial space is high-end. There will be no legitimate neighborhood-serving businesses – it will be another South Side Works with yuppie condo’s and the Gap. There is already a surplus of housing and vacant commercial space throughout downtown, Uptown and the Hill and this will only add to it. Second intermission: white people-3 1/2, black people-1/2.

    3. Will Pittsburgh yet again suffer from a failure of imagination? Hill residents have long sought economic dev. through tourism, which is more than viable considering it’s amazing history. Chicago’s Millenium Park has been generating approx. $200 MILLION per year in tourism dollars for the last 5 yrs and is expected to keep that pace for 5 more. That’s $2 BILLION dollars for the city of Chicago. It has catalyzed a tremendous amount of private development along it’s periphery – even Mayor Daley bought a condo across the street. The windfall from a traditional mixed-use development will go to the mostly white and wealthy developers.

    The final horn sounds. White people-4, black people-1.

    The solution? To be fair, a majority of Hill residents want the arena gone. It’s too painful a reminder of what was done to them. I personally like to believe it can be reused in a way the will serve that neighborhood well, especially once the 20 acres of parking serves a higher purpose. But if that’s their decision, I’m fine with that.

    What has not yet happened is opportunity for Hill residents to weigh – side by side – the best ideas that are out there. Not just concepts, but real ideas with real independent economic impact data alongside it. Designers and planners and everyone else can participate in those conversations because it does effect the city as a whole, but in the end it’s not for the rest of us to decide (especially not our mayor).

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