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PHLF Testimony on Civic Arena

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

Testimony Regarding the Nomination of the Civic Arena to Become a City-Designated Historic Structure

City of Pittsburgh, City Council Public Hearing

May 23, 2011

Good afternoon, my name is Anne Nelson. I am the general counsel of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, and I am here today on behalf of the organization.

The Civic Arena was part of a project conceived by philanthropist Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. and funded as an innovative public-private partnership that was intended to be a grand contribution to the region––a “civic” auditorium and convention center.  James A. Mitchell of Mitchell & Ritchey (1938-1957), the premier Pittsburgh architectural firm during the City’s Renaissance, designed the Arena in 1954; it was completed in altered form in 1961.  It was a daring, contemporary design and an extraordinary feat of engineering with the world’s largest retractable roof.  Mr. Mitchell also designed Mellon Square Park, and the firm served as associate architects for the Alcoa Office Building (now the Regional Enterprise Tower).  For these reasons, Landmarks supported the Arena’s nomination in 2003 to become a City-Designated Historic Structure, particularly under criteria three of the City’s historic preservation ordinance, which is still applicable today.

Whether you all approve the nomination or not in 2011, we want to reiterate two points for your consideration that Landmarks has articulated in a position paper as a result of the SEA’s September 2011 vote to demolish the Arena.

First, we believe there is the possibility of jeopardizing the future use of federal funds for the redevelopment of the entire 28-acre Lower Hill site if Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act is not complied with prior to the demolition of the Arena.  Section 110(K) of the Act prohibits “anticipatory demolitions” by placing a penalty on applicants of federal funds, including local governments that intentionally destroy or harm historic properties prior to the completion of the Section 106 review process.  The State History Code review that was recently completed by the SEA does not fulfill the requirements and processes that are clearly defined in the Section 106 regulations.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, our organization, and others have informed the SEA that proceeding with the demolition of the Arena may jeopardize the future use of federal funds at the site and make the funds vulnerable to legal challenge.

Second, in the case of the Arena, we would favor its preservation if a practical plan were to be put forth that did not add to the financial burden of the City or County, that generated tax revenues from the land in the Lower Hill and development opportunities as well, and was supported by Hill District residents.

If the Arena is to be removed, we then support the plan to establish an urban street grid, opening the land to provide a variety of developments opportunities, and we will suggest that a high standard of contemporary design be required.

We encourage City Council to carefully consider all of the information provided when considering the nomination, but especially the sentiments of the Hill District residents since this decision directly impacts their community.

Thank you for your time.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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