Menu Contact/Location

Many Suggest Ways to Save Mellon Arena

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
By Patricia Lowry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When I asked for ideas for reusing Mellon Arena on June 13, I hoped to get at least a handful of responses. But almost 60 of you e-mailed or called with suggestions or simply encouragement to find a way to save the arena.

Courtesy of David Julian Roth Architect David Roth's very preliminary concept study suggesting that the Mellon Arena become an urban greenhouse in partnership with the Swedish company Plantagon, which aims to produce food where much of it is consumed, in cities.

Convert it to a market house, “a large open floor filled with vendor stalls of fresh produce,” writes computer programmer Joel Hess of Etna. “Imagine that, when the weather permits, the roof of the dome would be opened to create an instant fresh-air market. … Pittsburgh would have the most impressive market house in the nation along with the recognition that goes with reusing and preserving a historic piece of architecture.”

And both the Hill and Downtown would have something they’ve long needed — a grocery store. A dedicated shuttle service and walk-ins from the new surrounding neighborhood could eliminate the need for massive amounts of parking.

Architect David Roth took the market house idea a step further, suggesting the Igloo become an urban greenhouse in partnership with the Swedish company Plantagon, which aims to produce food where much of it is consumed, in cities.

“Our arena installation would be a self-funded food agora, with Plantagon produce and local farmers market stalls in each of the perimeter bays,” Mr. Roth writes.

Although his design shows the dome replaced by a new structure, the existing dome could be glazed.

Some of you think the arena’s best use is as a transit hub.

“The arena would make an excellent regional transit center in which the T (on its future way out to the East End, of course), Amtrak rail, bus services, and (hopefully at some point!) a high-speed line out to the airport, could meet,” writes Carnegie Mellon public policy student Sam Lavery.

“The building could easily be connected to the T system along with the bus system coming in from the far corners of the county and beyond,” writes figure skating coach Bob Mock of Turtle Creek. “The building would contain a Grand Central type of atmosphere with a retail/mall corridor for commuters. In addition this would connect all of the sports venues by the T. The T could then be extended to the airport, South Side, Oakland and Monroeville.”

“There has been considerable talk about an experimental maglev train between Greensburg and the airport. I thought that the arena would be a great location for a Downtown station,” writes Gordon Marshall of Belle Vernon. “The roof could be left partially open with glass panel inserts for natural lighting and a view of the city.”

Several people mentioned the lack of natural light inside the dome when it’s closed and also suggested replacing some of the stainless-steel panels with transparent or translucent ones.

Artist Carol Skinger of Fox Chapel writes, “I can imagine a new skin that is more like a white mesh or some slightly knocked down version of white. It would be possibly perforated or, by the character of the material, be simply translucent, so when you are inside it is luminous even on a gray day.

“At night the interior lighting could be various colors so it would not always appear to be a white or yellow glow. The overall color could and would change at night as light comes through the translucent skin. I think a yellowish light dimmed way down at late night would give it such a beautiful feeling of a candle lantern.”

A retail or mixed-use development appealed to some.

“Turn it into a shopping, dining, living and entertainment area,” writes retired teacher Colleen Kinevey of Mt. Lebanon. “In the middle of the arena, in a spot which would be most convenient to the Hill District, make an open thruway connecting the Hill District to Downtown. It could be enclosed like the Jenkins Arcade or open in the fashion of a courtyard/thruway. The thruway would have to be convenient and available at all times. On both sides of the thruway could be shops, restaurants, spas, lofts, offices and theaters. There are endless possibilities.”

“A giant mall,” writes Mary Segal of West View, that “includes retail shops, food court, grocery store, child care center, movie theater and something like a fun fest place for kids with blow-up bouncies, miniature golf, a place for families to have kids’ birthday parties.”

How about a recreational use?

Retired Kennywood president Carl Hughes of Mount Washington called to suggest an indoor water park, an idea that also appealed to Avonworth High student Krystina Thomas.

“We don’t have one in the city, and during the summer you could open up the roof,” Ms. Thomas writes.

Artist Phil Rostek of Shadyside and his mother, Margaret, suggest “a major venue devoted to upscale public dancing,” with a dance floor surrounded by tables for dining, stars projected on the interior of the dome and dancing under the real stars when weather permits. The name would remain the Igloo, “where the ‘Burgh chills.” There would be dance and movement classes, too, for adults and kids.

Patricia Faloon, a professional clown who lives in Beechview, envisions a large indoor miniature golf course, with each hole interpreting one of the bridges, buildings, inclines or some other aspect of Pittsburgh.

An ice arena for kids’ hockey, figure skating and open skating would take advantage of what’s already there, two of you suggested. Or maybe an arena for professional boxing events, writes M.A. Johnson-Vaughn, passing along a friend’s idea.

Some ideas seem too similar to what Pittsburgh already has to be viable, such as a Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Hall of Fame Museum, a national museum of steel and industry, a giant aviary and botanical center, a home to nonprofits and a home (once again) for the Civic Light Opera.

Several writers suggested an industrial use, such as a place to assemble and warehouse solar panels and other green products. But the arena as cultural center appealed to others.

“A mall for artists,” writes former contractor John Mann of West Deer. “You could put shops all through it and have concerts and plays in the round.”

“Borrowing from the design of the Guggenheim in New York, maybe a spiral gallery could be built inside the dome,” writes Paul Carosi of Mt. Lebanon. “Visitors would take an elevator to the top and wind their way down the exhibit spaces.” He also floats the “Pittsburgh Music Hall of Fame, similar to the Experience Music Project in Seattle.”

“Since I was a little girl,” writes state welfare caseworker Lynda Regan of Dormont, “I’ve heard how Pittsburgh was the great American melting pot; a place where people of every ethnic and racial background came to work together, side by side, in the mills and factories, in order to make the American dream a reality for their kids and grandchildren.

“What I would like to see in the Civic Arena is a permanent monument to those hard-working men and women who labored all those years ago to make Pittsburgh the diverse, forward-moving city it is today. What I am suggesting is that the Civic Arena building be preserved and renovated into The Pittsburgh Folk Cultural Center, where locals and tourists alike, as well as educators, artists, performers and vendors, can come together to explore and to celebrate the contributions and traditions of the many ethnic groups which joined together to build Pittsburgh.”

Ms. Regan’s idea sounds like a permanent, ongoing Pittsburgh Folk Festival, an idea that celebrates the Hill’s history as a settlement place for immigrants of all nationalities. The dome would house classrooms, a dance studio, a small theater, ethnic restaurants, an international bazaar and a Grand Hall for banquets and wedding receptions.

Tom Galownia of Cecil has a different idea.

“If you want to really save the Igloo, then you first have to make them want to keep it, and the best way to do that in Pittsburgh, a city with low self-esteem, is to have someone else want it. So my suggestion is to start an effort to move it.

“Maybe you could advertise it on eBay. Once you get some serious interest, I guarantee you, Pittsburghers will demand it be kept.”

Architecture critic Patricia Lowry: or 412-263-1590.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633