Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Is it the End of the Ice Age for Pittsburgh Hockey?

Looks like global warming isn't the only thing killing Penguins. It was announced yesterday that the Pittsburgh Penguins were at "an impasse" with Pittsburgh municipal authorities regarding plans for a new arena. The team's owners are set to move if they can't arrange a new home for the team in Pittsburgh. Even though the Pens' owners offered $120 million toward a new arena, the construction and development costs are estimated to be $290 million, and the City of Pittsburgh and its taxpayers are not ready to commit that much cash.

In another attempt to raise the necessary funds, a gaming company called Isle of Capri Casinos offered to pay the taxpayer's share of costs in exchange for a license to open a casino in the Pittsburgh area. The casino license instead went to a competing corporation and this plan fell through.

With no other solution in sight, Mario Lemieux and other owner representatives are "aggressively" pursuing relocation. The top candidate for relocation remains Kansas City, but as mentioned in a previous Jacket Times post, Winnipeg, Portland, and Oklahoma City are also potential destinations.

It's a shame for a true hockey city to be struggling to keep their team (I can't help but draw comparisons to the Cleveland Browns' plight). The entire issue seems to revolve around the new arena that would replace the aging Mellon Arena, which was built all the way back in '61. To put that into perspective, the Beatles performed there in 1964... just months after first coming the US. Since opening, the arena has been renovated a few times, but the upgrades have been minimal. According to wikipedia, many 'upgrades' have been inadequate to keep up with modern technology and unable to compete with other professional sports venues. Apparently many seats have obstructed views and other seats are blocked off entirely because of roof leaks. Even one of the arena's most notable features, a retractable roof, was deactivated in order to compensate for a modern scoreboard. (Watching hockey with the roof open would be something special... though a tad chilly.)

I've never seen the inside of Mellon Arena, so I can't attest to its stagnant architecture, nor incapability to meet modern sports venue needs. Therefore, it is difficult to explain to a Nationwide Arena patron what the Penguins and their fans are going through. Is there any venue in Columbus that can compare to Mellon's degradation? The two potential candidates that come to mind are St. John's Arena at Ohio State and the Ohio Coliseum and Expo Center at the fair grounds, where the Columbus Chill formerly played. Speak up in the comments if you have some insight.


Anonymous said...

It seems like they are not going to have any other choice but to move the team. I know Kansas City is basically offering to cover everything and the ownership will have to pay nothing toward the new arena - not rent or anything. That is a hard offer to turn down. But, I do think it is going to be REALLY upsetting for Pittsburgh to lose the Pens, and I'm not looking forward to it at all.

Lakeside Lou said...

I think Kansas City would have a tough time offering the amenities that can be found in Brooks, Alberta- Pheasant capital of Canada.

In addition to the construction of the brand new 2000 seat Spunk Sparrow Sportsplex, we have a Dairy Queen, Ace's Cafe and a virtual plethora of bars and liquor stores.

Don't forget the Brooks Hotel- home of the Brooks sandwich!

Eat your heart out KC!

Sarah said...

I went to a game in Pittsburgh last year, and the Igloo is definitely in run down condition. It still looks pretty cool from the outside, but the inside isn't that great. The concourses just look and feel old and small. And I say this as someone who loves old arenas and will probably chain myself to the front of the building when the wrecking balls come for Cincinnati Gardens. It looked and felt more like a building where you'd be seeing an AHL game.

I was sitting down pretty low, so my seats were fine. The way the upper tiers of seats looked to be jerry-rigged to the side of the building -- eep. I'm sure they are actually attached safely, it just looks precarious; but you can really see where the building was built for a much smaller capacity and they've had to jam seats in to expand it over the years.

I can understand why they need a new building. By the same token, being from Cincinnati and having gone through the stadium fiascos there, I can see why the taxpayers wouldn't want to pay for it. And I can see why the KC offer would be pretty hard for the Pens ownership to turn down. It's all just business. But in the end, the Pittsburgh fans get shafted...