As Dennis Miller used to say once upon a time, “I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but…”
In about a month, the Pittsburgh Penguins will play their first regular season game at the brand, spanking new Consol Energy Center, a venue that was completed this year to replace the decrepit and totally outdated Civic Arena. For those of you not from around here, you have no idea what it took for this to happen. Once upon a time, those of us who are Pens fans were afraid that the Pens would be headed out of town to Kansas City or Vegas or anywhere else but the Burgh. Then Mario Lemieux swept in, bought the team and worked out a deal with the city to build a new arena right down the hill from the Civic Arena. Said new arena was completed earlier this year, and by all accounts, it’s going to be a spectacular venue for hockey, basketball, concerts, pro wresting and so on.
End of story, right? Er, not quite.
Before I get into this story, let me take you back in time about 10 years. The powers-that-be finally decided that Three Rivers Stadium had to go. It had become a dinosaur like so many of the multi-purpose stadiums built back in the early 1970s. It was old and decrepit with an Astroturf surface and little in the way of amenities that modern sports facilities have. Few people could have argued with this, but when the time came to finance what would become PNC Park and Heinz Field by adding 1% to Allegheny County’s sales tax, you would have thought that the county was asking for people’s firstborn. There was that much uproar.
Look, I’m a conservative. I hate new taxes, but if it meant that Three Rivers Stadium would go buh-bye and we’d get two new, state-of-the-art facilities in its place, then I’d bite the bullet and just deal with it. And deal with it I have. Every time I set foot into PNC Park and see one of the best ballparks in America, I’m more than happy to continue to pay the added sales tax (though it would be nice if the Buccos were actually, y’know, good, but that’s another rant for another time). The same can be said for going to Heinz Field for Pitt and Steelers games. The fact that the Steelers have won two more Super Bowls since moving into Heinz Field hasn’t escaped me, either.
Yet, over a decade later, there are still people who bitch and moan about the respective costs of the stadiums. But think about this – when one stadium became two, that opened up jobs for the people who work at PNC Park and Heinz Field. And best of all, the city finally developed the space between the two stadiums with restaurants and office buildings and hotels. Before that, there was practically no where to have a bite to eat or a beer before a sporting event. Now there are upwards of 10 different restaurants around and between PNC Park and Heinz Field to go to before or after the game. Think of all of the jobs that the restaurants and hotels have provided, especially in this troubled economy, and tell me that the stadiums weren’t worth it.
Fast forward to today. With the Pens moving into Consol Energy Center, the Civic Arena is just taking up space. The city and the Stadium and Exhibition Authority (the SEA) want to tear down the Arena and develop the former Arena site and the land around it. Great idea, right? Well, not according to some of the anti-progress naysayers who live around here. Because the Arena has great historical value (and it does, don’t get me wrong), these people want it saved and repurposed. Great. Who’s gonna pay for it? I don’t think it should fall to the city or county to pay for the upkeep (rumored to be around half million dollars a year), so I ask again: who’s gonna pay for it. I also ask: what are you going to do with the Arena other than let it stand there as a giant eyesore?
Trust me, outside of a rather tiny (yet still awesome) bar called the Souper Bowl and a bar/restaurant inside a hotel, there’s pretty much no where to go before or after an event at the Civic Arena to have a meal or throw back a few brews. People come to the events and do everything they can to get out of there ASAP because traffic can be a real pain, especially if you’re from out of town and don’t know how to navigate the streets of downtown Pittsburgh (most of which are usually under construction). There have to be more places to go, more places for people to spend their money, more places to build revenue.
The Arena holds a lot of memories for me. I saw my first concert there (Huey Lewis and The News). I was in attendance when Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko left WCW and showed up on Monday Night RAW. I was there when Jaromir Jagr scored in OT to beat the New Jersey Devils in what some people believed could be the last game at the Arena (this was when the Pens were in bankruptcy and were not 100% going to still be in town). And I was there in the very last sporting event at the Arena when the Pens beat the Canadiens earlier this year. I love the Arena, but it has to go. It’s cramped, smelly and so antiquated that you’ll wonder how the city managed to draw any sort of concerts or wrestling events to it.
My guess is that many of the naysayers are the same people who didn’t want a new arena in the first place. Look, people, I realize that much of the city of Pittsburgh is still stuck in the 1980s and hates progress of any kind, but we needed a new arena, period. It’s not just for the Pens (who only play there a maximum of 50-60 times year); it’s for musical acts that have been skipping over Pittsburgh because the Civic Arena was a dump. It’s for WWE who, while still holding TV tapings in Pittsburgh, have not had one of their big four PPVs here because the Arena is a dump. It’s for the NCAA to hold first and second round NCAA Men’s Basketball tourney games (and maybe even a regional eventually). It’s for the Frozen Four. And both of these things wouldn’t be coming back to Pittsburgh if they still had to use the Arena because the Civic Arena is a dump! Period.
Do I trust the city, county and SEA to do the right thing with the development of the (hopefully) soon-to-be-vacant Civic Arena lot? Not necessarily, but I see the job that’s been done on the North Side between PNC Park and Heinz Field, and I’m encouraged. I think of all of the jobs it might create, and I’m again encouraged.
Some people are complaining about the lack of transparency behind the whole vote on what to do with the Arena (which is pretty funny considering our President’s failed promise to have the most transparent presidency in history), but you know what? I really couldn’t care less, especially when I read that people were shouting “Gestapo!” during the vote. Way to play the Nazi card, people. *eye roll* Deal with it, people, unless, of course, you want to come up with the money to pay for the upkeep of the Arena, that is. And if you expect someone to come swooping in to save the Arena from demolition, then I think you’re gonna have a long wait.
I was watching from across the river the morning that Three Rivers Stadium was imploded, and I was happy to see it go. It was a giant, concrete ashtray that had no individuality or personality. Yes, there were plenty of good memories from the old dump, but that doesn’t mean that new memories can’t be created at PNC Park and Heinz Field, like Brian Giles’ walk-off grand slam to beat the Astros several years ago and Pedro Alvarez’s walk-off three run homer to beat the Rockies earlier this year. Or how about Troy Polamalu’s mad dash to the end zone against the Ravens in the AFC Championship to sew up the Steelers’ second trip to the Super Bowl in four years.
New memories will be made at the Consol Energy Center. The Civic Arena will be gone but not forgotten. And as much as people are going to bitch and moan and protest and complain about the (inevitable) razing of the Civic Arena, progress will go on, whether they like it or not.
So, when I go to the Consol Energy Center later on this year (probably for the annual City Game between Pitt and Duquesne on December 1st), I’ll look up to where the Civic Arena sits and salute the old girl and think fondly back on all of the good times I had there. However, I’ll also look forward to the restaurants and shops that may be there some day. Right now, I hope it’s not matter of if, but a matter of when.