Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lose the idea of a new Arena. Lose the Penguins, too. (Sept. 9, 2006)

Current mood:bitchy

I have no use for a new Mellon Arena. Keep what's there and renovate it.

More to the point, I have no use for the Penguins. And no, I'm not kidding. And no, I'm not worried about pissing off a horde of fans. Basically, too bad.

I lived through the demise of one sports franchise (Buffalo Bisons baseball, 1970), and guess what -- the town got not one, but TWO major league franchises in the next couple of years (Sabres NHL hockey, Braves NBA basketball). It was fun to lose a sports team! Even better, hardly 10 years later, they came back. By then, we'd also lost the NBA team, and lived through that debacle, too.

So, lose the Penguins. See what else we can come up with. Let me give you a couple of for-instances:
* An NBA team (we're close, with the Xplosion) [footnote: folded, 2008]
* A WNBA team [mentions a potential Pittsburgh expansion]
* How 'bout them Riverhounds, anyway? (they play soccer)
* Our already-here professional women's football team, the Pittsburgh Passion
* Didn't we have a lacrosse team in town at one time, too?
* Professional tennis, anyone?

Then we have all the many and varied non-sports things to do in town already. If we weren't dumping an eight-digit figure a year on one sports business, maybe we could drop a couple of dollars into the till at our symphony, our theatre troupes, our ballet, our shows and clubs and cabarets, any number of civic organizations ... Geez, just pick up the paper and look at the lineup of activities in the area.

The last time I saw a Pens game one ticket cost $38, and that was 1992, I think. Just in inflation that's over $50 today. How many seats to your kid's high school musical would that buy you? Back at the Igloo, the priciest Xplosion seat right now is only $25; the cheapest is $6.25.

But let's just say we somehow found yet another nine-digit sum to spend to build a new sports venue right here in town. Only not to spend on a new igloo. I have another idea.

A golf course. Yes, right here, right next to Downtown. A full-size, fully equipped, professional quality 18-hole golf course. And where do I propose putting most of a square mile of green space, pray tell? I thought you'd never ask. Answer: Directly over the Parkway North, between North Avenue and Milroy Street, maybe even up as far as the East Street overpass.

I can hear the hubbub in the room already (because I've proposed this before, in a couple of venues). So, let me take them one at a time:

* Can't do it; it's against the law to build over a highway. Laws are ink and paper. We hire legislators to write and change laws. It took a law change to allow Port Authority to have roof-mounted fuel tanks for its natural gas buses a few years ago. So, yes, it can be done.

* It'd slow down the Parkway and make traffic a nightmare. The road's already there; it's not like we're squeezing it into the side of a hill like we do east and west of town each day. We're just sticking a roof over it. Done properly, there would be no impact. None.

* Construction would make the road impassable. A valid question, one that would be a lot more difficult to answer were there not streets on both sides of 279 most of that distance already -- East Street on the east, Howard Street on the west. But once the supports are in, all the work is overhead.

* Not worth it. Who'd use it? Um, duhhh, name one golf course around here that doesn't attract a crowd. And name even one city in North America with a world-class golf course five minutes from Downtown.

* Noplace to park. Duhhh again, we're creating usable space. It's a blank slate. Plus, there's zillions of existing bus routes that go right past the place, and since they're so close to town, they'd (a) pay for themselves, and (b) be an easy ride for anyone coming from town. You wouldn't need a second square mile just to park cars.

* What about accidents on 279? What indeed? Accidents don't already happen in enclosed spaces? So you fireproof the underside of the structure, and ensure that ladder trucks can work if they need to. Not a problem!

* Technically too difficult. Bull. My original motivation for this was in 2000 when, from my desk at 200 Hightower on Steubenville Pike in Robinson Township I watched The Mall At Robinson be constructed. It took them over a year, but they took a hill, shoved it in a valley, flattened the whole thing out, and constructed a large building on it. Separately, I used to work in the Expo Mart in Monroeville, essentially a large building on stilts. (The parking lot is at ground level, below. Much of CCAC Boyce Campus is on stilts, too. Granted there'd be some engineering involved, but it's not impossible. Heck, just look at any skyscraper. This would just be wide instead of tall.

It's also not that new an idea. One of the 1968-era proposals for what became Three Rivers Stadium had the entire structure positioned above the Allegheny River, near where PNC Park is now.

So, say we actually do build the thing. Think what else could go along with it. There used to be several thousand homes in the valley where I-279 now sits. While constructing the roof, we could just as well add a couple of floors of residential to the mix. There's all kinds of vertical space available. This could be money-making real estate. Parts of it could even be a public park. Wouldn't that be a cool idea? Live right under the golf course!

We also wouldn't have to plow or salt that part of the big road when it snows. It would also help with storm runoff.

Public money should be spent on public projects. A new igloo primarily benefits one sports franchise. If we have a quarter-billion that we can spend, it should be to enhance our infrastructure, not merely trade up.

The existing building already does anything that its replacement would. Yank out the fancy scoreboard, and then maybe we can use that opening dome again -- which hasn't moved since a 1979 Olivia Newton-John concert. That is a truly cool device, which we'd trash simply because we don't know what we already have. And that's plain stupid.

So, back to business. Yeah, Penguins, go to Kansas or Tucson or whatever town that would have you. We lived without you somehow for most of a season just a couple of years ago. We can do it again -- and for most, we would neither notice the difference, nor care.

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