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Pittsburgh City Council opposes saving Mellon Arena

Landmark status loses in preliminary 5-0 vote

Thursday, February 27, 2003

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When it comes to winning historic landmark status, Mellon Arena doesn’t have any friends on City Council.

In preliminary action, council members voted 5-0 yesterday against giving city historic designation to the 42-year-old silver-domed hockey rink in the Lower Hill District.

“Just because something is old — and the arena isn’t even that old — doesn’t mean it’s a landmark,” said Councilwoman Barbara Burns. “I don’t think this meets the city’s criteria as a historic structure. I don’t think the advocates presented a good argument for making it historic.”

Mellon Arena opened as the Civic Auditorium in 1961. The name was later changed to Civic Arena. Mellon Financial bought the naming rights four years ago.

Councilman Sala Udin has been adamant that the domed structure either be demolished or dismantled and moved to some other site. He would like new housing and stores built on its 28 acres.

He is still angry about how city officials in the late 1950s tore down a largely black neighborhood where he and hundreds of other people lived, forced the residents to move and built the arena as a home for the Civic Light Opera.

Councilman William Peduto said he personally “loves the arena. I skated there last month. It’s a semi-religious structure and I would be sad if it’s torn down.”

On the other hand, “it was built as an opera house and it failed as an opera house, and now it’s a hockey rink and the National Hockey League players recently voted it the worst place to play hockey,” Peduto noted.

Councilman Alan Hertzberg said, “I saw that Jean-Claude Van Damme movie on TV the other night — ‘Sudden Death,’ the one where the Civic Arena gets blown up. It’s a bad movie, but it was a tremendous way to bring this whole [historic designation] issue to a conclusion.”

As a way to ensure Mellon Arena’s long-term future, two historic preservation groups, Preservation Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, nominated the arena for historic status in May. That was soon after Penguins owner Mario Lemieux went public with a pitch for a new arena.

Designating the arena as a historic landmark would make it more difficult to tear it down. Historic structures can’t be razed without approval from the city’s Historic Review Commission.

But even the review commission, in a 4-3 vote, recommended against making the arena historic. The city planning commission also recommended against it.

City Council’s final vote is set for Tuesday.

Mellon Arena is likely to remain standing, at least in the short term. The Penguins have a lease to play there until mid-2007.

If a new arena is ever built for the Penguins — the proposed site is just south of Mellon Arena, between Fifth and Centre avenues — the current arena’s future could be in question. Penguins officials have said they don’t want Mellon Arena used for hockey, circuses, wrestling, tractor pulls or anything else that could compete with activities in a new arena.

Building a new arena is, however, dependent on finding up to $270 million in city, county and state funds, a difficult political hurdle.

Tom Barnes can be reached at or 412-263-1548.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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