Down Goes the Civic Arena

File this one under “Missed opportunity”, not “Calamity” nor “End of the world.”

After lengthy debate, council voted 6-3 today to reject a city historic designation for the 49-year-old landmark, all but sealing its fate.

Its decision allows the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the arena’s owner, to move forward with plans to demolish the iconic structure with the retractable dome.

The SEA wants to clear the site to make way for a 28-acre residential, commercial, and office development proposed by the Penguins. The team won development rights over the land in the 2007 deal to build the new Consol Energy Center across the street from the arena. (P-G, Mark Belko)

In point of fact, demolition only “makes way” for more discussion and debate regarding redevelopment — though at this late date, far more fertile.

As nice as it would be to go back to 2006-07 and negotiate a better deal with the Penguins, history is history — and at this point in history, there is certainly something to be said for obeying the fairly impressive uniform wishes of the African-American Greater Hill District. Even though some others might believe them to be mistaken for whatever reasons, they have a solid point in that a clean slate has certain inherent virtues.

[…] Councilman Bruce Kraus voted against the designation based on the potential for restoring the street grid from the Hill to Downtown and eventually connecting Oakland to Downtown.

“I am taking a gamble here,” he said, noting he originally supported the historic designation. (ibid)

There has lately and generally been a resurgence of talk about more seriously reconnecting that which lies unconnected in the street grid — in an aspirational time-frame we assume; Crosstown Expressway be hanged. The Comet has an immense fondness towards aspirations, especially when written down and posted in everyday lines of sight.

33 thoughts on “Down Goes the Civic Arena

  1. MH

    With a crossing guard and some of those turtles with flags, I'm sure the Crosstown Expressway can have an at-grade pedestrian crossing.

  2. Bram Reichbaum

    I'm not sure pedestrian-grade is the issue. The “plank” or “cap” which may ideally come along may ideally take care of that. Cars however are the cognitive and behavioral masters in terms of economic connectivity.

  3. BrianTH

    I prefer the term “deck-park”.

    Anyway, it seems to me that the biggest issue with respect to designing the street grid is whether both Webster and Wylie get extended through the whole site (as I think they should). An important related issue is how the resulting five-way intersections at Washington Place would work–obviously they should be pedestrian friendly, and I also think it would be good if it was intuitively clear that Webster and Wylie were the “main” roads and that Bigelow and Centre were the tributary roads.

  4. Bram Reichbaum

    Only way to make that intuitively clear BrianTH (and we are SO!! on the same page) is if Webster and/or Wylie go somewhere.

    I had a sketch a while ago in which Wylie made a northward diagonal turn and became 7th Avenue. I'll try to dig out that napkin.

  5. Chad

    For it to be “intuitively clear” that Webster and Wylie are mains to Centre's tributary, both will need to be at least four (or five?) lanes wide. Somehow, I don't see that happening.

    Nor do I see a “deck-park,” or a plank, or a cap, or a Crosstown Boulevard Oasis in the Sky happening unless we get a pretty big boatload of federal funding to pay for it.

    And those five-way intersections are always pedestrian friendly. Nothing quite says “let people walk from the Hill to Downtown and back” like sending them through five-way intersections that precede the gateways to two different interstates.

    Yeah. This should be fun.

  6. BrianTH

    I actually don't think it is such a challenge to pull off. The bridges are pointed in the right direction as they pass over Crosstown. You just need to line up Wylie and Webster with the bridges, then use some basic visual cues to indicate continuity as you pass Washington.

    A deck park will take a little federal money, but not North Shore Connector money.

  7. MH

    Bridges cost money and traffic moves too fast anyway. Just put a stoplight and a cross walk on the crosstown.

  8. Anonymous

    Chad has it right as he has all along on his blog. The thing to remember that the way to plan is to look at these issues FIRST as part of a holistic planning approach (traffic, parking , landuse, market analysis, urban design, LEED ND, housing policy, retail/entertainment demand analysis, demographics of the Hill 10 years out, open space analysis) Has all of this been done with a public engagement process that includes independent facilitators, full range of community stakeholders? NO! It has been compartmentalized into many little pieces to divide and conquer. Go here to learn about a process that is proposed for Oakland and UDA actually used to know how to do:

  9. Anonymous

    Its funny how traffic is the big concern here when sustainable design state of the art is to make blocks smaller, less parking (WALK) and reduce VMT. The addition of Wylie and Webster (NOT being added back), in addition to ending at Washington Place, does nothing to help crossing to the Downtown. The Crosstown Cap, while a good idea in concept has a number of flaws in grade and access.

    The URA has been against it and the earmark ($5million) was a fraction of the actual cost (>>$25 million). The city cant afford to maintain what it already has and so an endowment would have to be created. Restoring Mellon Square is going to take $18 million (NIC maintaince). Lastly, the Casey/Spector/Doyle Altmire earmark has been changed to a 900k for the “Garden Passage” (Lost steps) connector between Centre and 5th that the Pens refused to pay for.

    Oh and did you know that the zoning required 10% public open spaces will be subsidized by parking TIFs and other park and street green space? that translates to 20 acres (less streets) x 10% = 2 acres.

    $35 million for streets and utilities and $50 Million for structured parking under most of the site. $85-100 million of SUBSIDY that no one talks about, paid NOT Billionaire Pens ownership but you and me.

    And we still don't know what the Penguins overlords mean by “Transformative Development” other than what the Pens raved about with their TGIF Friday and Subway.

  10. Bram Reichbaum

    MH – If your pedestrian idea is seriously to install stoplights and crosswalks across the Crosstown Expressway, you are going to have to install 60-foot knotted climbing ropes up and down the ravine along both sides for easy rappelling. It a gash through the earth, involves train tracks at one point I believe, and it is extraordinarily confusing to stare down into from above and try to imagine alternate traffic flows should even one lane of the cobweb be re-purposed. Not that it'd be impossible, but it's a task very ill-suited to naked eyeballs.

    Anon 10:47 – The Pens aren't chipping in for the “Garden Steps”? You know, it's like, who cares almost. That always smacked to me of the most cynical way to sprinkle a little cheap green fluff on anything you're doing as a layer of “Progressive Repellent”. But as Lando Calrissian once memorably said, “This deal's gettin' worse all the time!”

  11. BrianTH

    I for one have always been thinking in terms of complete streets and small blocks. And again, I would suggest designing Wylie and Webster to extend smoothly past Washington and over their respective bridges into Downtown.

    I also don't get the alleged engineering issues with the deck-park. In essence it would just be a wide bridge over Crosstown. Since we already know bridges can be built over Crosstown in that precise location, what's the issue?

    Finally, the Penguins released a fairly detailed proposal during the public hearing process. I think there are issues with it, but it isn't such a mystery what they have in mind in at least general terms.

  12. Bram Reichbaum

    BrianTH – Regarding the deck park, I don't see any engineering issues, but I do see expense and an ill climate in Washington for what many might see as gingerbread.

    As to bridges — well, the present bridges already all go somewhere, and none of them simply to locally service either side. I think all of them have offshoots which merge into the Crosstown itself or funnel into or from an Interstate or Bigelow Blvd. We could build new bridges or re-purpose old ones, but we'd have to tear out what seem like a bunch of very active lanes and nerves right at the city's sacroilliac spine, add our thing, then restore all of the critical function. Maybe I'm making too big a deal of it, but take a look firsthand on those bridge streets with no sidewalks and those signs that say “No Pedestrians”, it's intimidating.

  13. Anonymous

    Hanging ropes down the walls of the ravine is a cool idea. Especially since part of the crosstown sits on the site of the old gallows.

  14. MH

    If your pedestrian idea is seriously to install stoplights and crosswalks across the Crosstown Expressway…

    If Breezewood can have a stupid interstate, why can't we?

  15. BrianTH

    I agree the deck-park is likely to take some political shifts at the federal, and maybe state, level.

    As for the existing bridges–I'm not an engineer, but I have walked them in person with these issues in mind. What is interesting is that both bridges have a big difference between what you might call the “inside” (facing each other) and “outside” parts. The outside parts are where all the lanes are dividing off. The inside parts don't have such lanes, and in fact have sidewalks on them already.

    That's part of why a modest deck-park between the bridges is feasible (and also why extending that deck-park past the bridges would be a nightmare). It is also why I believe creating a “complete streets” path that extends smoothly through the Lower Hill site and over the bridges isn't a particular problem–you can use the inside part of the bridges for that purpose without any apparent issue.

    For the outside part–that will have to remain similar.

    Here is a crude sketch, but hopefully it conveys the basic idea:

    Note I've only taken over the inside part of the bridges for the new streets.

  16. MH

    So noted.

    Also, there ids no reason to be closed-minded about the issue. Maybe somebody wants to build a business there, as they sometimes do on the bridges of Europe. For example, a barbershop called The Comb Over would be a good fit.

  17. rich10e

    i noticed in your quote of Councilman Kraus, you failed to add the ending (in quotes)which was …connect Oakland to Downtown “through the Hill.” Was your omission inadvertent or collaborative?

    The inclusion of that in my opinion makes the statement ill informed in the least. When I asked the Councilman on his Facebook page for an explanation he chose to ignore my request.I mean go thru the Hill to get to Downtown when Fifth Ave to town is a brief ride even by bus or bike. Just wondering!

  18. Bram Reichbaum

    Also inadvertent: those of you who from other blogrolls saw a link to a post here entitled “Jaromir Jagr Rejoins Penguins”. I had a music video ready to go during #jagrwatch, and then decided to clean my keyboard with a damp towelette without thinking what would happen if I hit enter.

  19. BrianTH

    I can't answer for him, but one of the possible routes for a Downtown to Oakland subway would pass under the Hill. The chief argument for using such a route is that it would likely increase the development potential of the Hill.

    Of course for much less money, you could follow a similar route with aerial gondolas.

  20. Mark Rauterkus

    Kraus took a gamble. He proved he is worthless, other than as a wallpaper artist.

    I do not want a steward to be a gambler.

    He had duties, and ignored them with his vote. Purpose FAIL.

    Plus, he cut his leash to Bill Peduto on a principle-less decision.

    Now Mr Kraus can take credit for tearing down two ice rinks.

  21. Anonymous

    i'm actually proud of Kraus for perhaps the first time. Taking a gamble is exactly what politicians should do more of. Of course, they should be calculated gambles, but life and success are about risk. Not enough politicians take risk.

  22. Mark Rauterkus

    Since you are proud of Kraus for the first time, we are together all those other times except this one.


    Life is NOT fair, understood. But, I want fair elections.

    Greatness has a common thread in that the individuals took and take some risks. Right on. But, I do NOT want over reaching politicians taking gambles with our rights, liberties and freedoms.

    This is a realm where there should be no risk taking.

  23. Bram Reichbaum

    Rauterkus – Life is risk, and absolutism is a red flag. But we no doubt should leave rights, liberties and freedoms wholly INTACT, even as we bend them gently and with care to support key constitutional interests like the public healths and the general welfare. Else no progress, and frustrated energies bringing about churn, burn and self-feeding. It's like unto the march of civil rights in some respects.


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