Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why Should We Care about the Igloo?

When Rob Pfaffman, a Pittsburgh architect, shows up to champion the reuse of Mellon Arena, he has two problems. First, he has to convince folks that the building is worth saving. Second, he has to convince folks to care.

Up until now, he has largely focused his public awareness meetings in the Hill District, where he has found, mostly, that folks don't care. Now, he is expanding his radius to the whole of Pittsburgh, hoping that we will fall in love with the idea that the Igloo is to Pittsburgh as the Eye is to Seattle.

They have a very comprehensive website where you can read for yourself and decide if you think the building is worth saving.

I think that Pittsblog captures the general public sentiment:
"The Igloo should go. It is not the Pantheon; it is not Penn Station. It is an eyesore. The space occupied by that building represents an opportunity to re-create and re-invent a big slice of Pittsburgh's urban fabric. (Of course, given Pittsburgh's history with redevelopment over the last 50 years, the city might well blow its big chance.) But that's just me."
But there are some, like me, who have drunk the Kool-Aid. Personally, I find the building to be an icon. Looking out from my deck, I can see the US Steel UPMC building, the Cathedral of Learning, the Igloo, and many other buildings. But it's those first 3 that really stand out, and that I always point out to friends. I will miss it if it's gone. From above, the new arena is another bland block in the landscape.

But mostly, Mr Pfaffman is selling the building and not a vision. One of the foremost plans I've heard for reuse is turning the decrepit arena into a boutique hotel. He says this is not about "nostalgia," but I have to say that the only ones wanting to stay in an over-priced arena boutique hotel are those overcome by nostalgia. For the residents of the Hill District, this would not be an amenity, just yet another reason for rich folks to stop through. Another reuse idea I hear floated about is as a non-professional sporting arena. Folks have championed ideas from a hockey rink to a velodrome. Once again, this is meant to appeal to general area dwellers and is not marketed at the Hill District. These plans will not generate any more or less jobs for Hill District residents than the Penguins plan.

Throwing a bone to Hill District residents, Pfaffman has plans for a walk with interpretive signs.

Needless to say, another multi-multi-million dollar project with some spare change thrown into interpretive signs, doesn't get Hill District residents involved and interested. If Rob Pfaffman and his crew really want to save the arena, they will find a vision for the new site that appeals to Hill District residents. Historians and those stepped-on by history have a chance of creating the momentum that will be needed to sway the Penguins management. How about a Hill District charter school on the site? Or a museum dedicated to the area?

Lastly, may I suggest a compromise? Incorporating architectural elements of the old building into the new development would act as a reminder and a teaching point for years to come. At the Waterfront, we have relic smoke stacks. At Station Square, there is an old train car. While these are not perfect examples, at least it's something. Clearly, it's too early for either side to give in to compromise, but I hope that in the end they find some middle ground.

Thanks to Eve Picker for putting together an informative panel and generating a lively discussion on the future of the Igloo at the monthly CityLive! event. If you haven't been to a CityLive! event and you care about issues in the city, you're really missing out on a great time. Next up, on June 29, Eve and her crew are tackling the issue of water in the city. RSVP today. Bonus? The events are free.

1 comment:

CrazyMacHarris99 said...

You bring up some good points but I feel most of them are covered by those of us trying to save the Igloo.

Rob has always stated that he is not the one to design the reuse and his plans are not what the building should definitely be used for. He is trying to start a dialogue and get people thinking about what it could be used for. The City and the Penguins never spent a single ounce of energy or thought thinking about viable reuses. The hotel idea is one idea that would generate revenue to keep the building profitable and able to include things such as a public park, local area history museum, small amplitheater, ice skating rink, jazz clubs and other small retail outlets. These small things need a big revenue producing anchor to make the project believable. You said that it would not be an amenity for the Hill residents but the Penguins have proposed building a hotel within the 28-acre site as well. We are trying to show the people of Pittsburgh that there are many different options and we can use the arena as a way to keep the past alive while making things better for everyone. The Penguins and the City officials want to erase the past and create a completely new area that will have nothing to tie it to any part of it's history. It will be a parking lot for 5-10 years and then will make money for a select few and the Hill will be no better off than they were yesterday. There are also issues with gentrification arising from the Penguins plan as well as the development of the 28-acres only stealing revenue and jobs from other parts of the city.

There needs to be a comprehensive planning process that includes the city as a whole and that focuses on all of these problems. The Pittsblog mentions "Of course, given Pittsburgh's history with redevelopment over the last 50 years, the city might well blow its big chance." and I believe that is what will happen with the current timeline of events and the plans presented by the City and the Penguins. All we are asking is that the City, the County and the Penguins put the demolition on hold and create a complete planning process that focuses on every aspect. We don't need to rush to build another concrete wasteland.