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Historic status for Mellon Arena rejected

By George Aspiotes
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday unanimously voted against a measure to grant landmark status to the 42-year-old Mellon Arena, the home of the Penguins hockey organization in the Lower Hill.

In a preliminary vote, council voted 5-0 against granting the status, which was sought by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation President Arthur Ziegler; Sandra Brown, president of Preservation Pittsburgh; and architect Rob Pfaffman, a member of Preservation Pittsburgh.

Council will take a final vote Tuesday. Council members Gene Ricciardi and Twanda Carlisle were absent from the preliminary vote.

“I will be sad the day it gets torn down,” Councilman William Peduto said. “It was part of an urban renewal and it has failed.”

Peduto said the arena, formerly called Civic Arena, never became a link between the Hill District and Downtown, as planners originally hoped. Mellon Arena is the oldest arena in the National Hockey League.
The city’s Historic Review and Planning commissions already voted against designating the arena as a historic site. The Historic Review Commission voted 4-3 against historic status, while the Planning Commission rejected the measure 7-1.

Last June, Pfaffman told Planning Commission members he would like to see the building used as a hotel or for apartments. The groups nominated Mellon Arena for landmark status last May.

Neither Pfaffman, Ziegler nor Brown returned telephone messages seeking comment yesterday.

Councilwoman Barbara Burns said Mellon Arena did not meet the city’s criteria for a historic landmark. Just because a structure is old, it is not necessarily a historic landmark, she said.

Burns and Councilman Sala Udin said they felt the arena was nominated more as a sign of opposition to building a new arena, rather than as an attempt to preserve the building.

“I think that in some ways the nomination was a ruse by people who were opposed to the building of a new arena,” Udin said.

The Penguins are trying to secure money to build a new $270 million arena, which the club has said is crucial to its future. Under a lease, the Penguins will play at Mellon Arena through 2007.

Ken Sawyer, president of the Lemieux Group, said council’s vote really was not a concern for the Penguins. He said the vote would not have changed the club’s goal of building a new arena. The Penguins have proposed Mellon Arena be razed to make way for development of a hotel and retail shops near a new arena.

The Sports & Exhibition Authority, the city-county agency that owns the arena, opposes giving the arena historic designation status. Authority officials have said they could not afford to operate both Mellon Arena and a new facility, if one is built.

George Aspiotes can be reached at or 412-320-7982.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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