Threatened: Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena
By Kate Nickel | Online Only | Dec. 10. 2008
A five-year debate over a midcentury modern stadium rages on this month in Pittsburgh. City officials plan to demolish the old arena when a new one is completed.
Dedicated in 1961 as the Civic Arena, the Mellon Arena features a 300-ton motorized retractable roof. Despite its formidable design, the dome can be retracted to reveal the Pittsburgh sky in only two minutes, all without the help of any interior supports, no less. Architects all over the world consider "the Igloo" a prime example of post-war engineering and design. It has hosted performances by Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles.
The new arena, which will be larger and more luxurious, is nearing completion on a close but separate site. The city plans to demolish the Mellon Arena only once the new one is open and ready for business. But so far, it appears the city has no specific development plans for the site. Why then, ask preservationists, must the owners destroy an international landmark of civic engineering and architectural design?
Since the main argument for demolition is the building's potential lack of use, preservationists are urging officials to consider the wide-range of ways they could reuse the space.
"Imagine our Civic Arena reborn as a cultural center, ethnic marketplace, nightclubs, housing, hotel, or any combination of new complementary uses," says Robert Pfaffman, architect and board member of Preservation Pittsburgh. "A proposed new Penguins arena that anchors Fifth Avenue redevelopment is a great opportunity if planned and designed properly. The reuse of the arena is not an either/or proposition; we can do both. The redevelopment of the arena can be a 'win-win' for the community, the region, and the Penguins."
Preservation Pittsburgh and other groups have also suggested turning the Mellon Arena into an African American Cultural Center and museum, or perhaps a hotel. The sea of parking lots surrounding the Igloo could be developed to include restaurants, hotels, shops, and nightclubs that would generate income.
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