Michael McDonnell Speaks at Public Comment Session on Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena

Michael McDonnell Speaks at Public Comment Session on Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena

Today, Pittsburgh’s Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA) heard public comments from concerned citizens on the fate of Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. The arena recently vacated by the Pittsburgh Penguins is slated to be razed. Proponents for and against taking down the iconic building were among the more than 60 pre-registered speakers. IKM principal architect, Michael McDonnell, AIA offered the following comments at the meeting:

“Good Morning, my name is Michael McDonnell. I am a business owner and resident of Allegheny County.  My home residence is in Upper St. Clair, PA.  I am a Partner at IKM Incorporated, an Architecture, Planning, & Interior Design firm with offices in PPG Place.  IKM will be 100 years old next year and in those 100 years, we have had a significant role in many important projects in the region including Chatham Village, Buhl Planetarium, the adaptive reuse of the H.H. Richardson County Jail, as well as the additions and renovations to the Phipps Conservatory.

I began seriously thinking about the Civic Arena question back in March of this year.  Until that time I thought this issue was simple.  The Civic Arena is a great building, it looks great on the skyline and terrific on Google Earth; we should keep it!

I was comfortable with that position until I had the chance to hear first hand some of the sentiments of people living in the Hill District neighborhood.  I heard stories of displacement; and I heard stories of loss.  The stories revealed the strong feelings still held about the original Civic Arena development.  What I was most impressed with and surprised by was that after all these years, this neighborhood was still unsettled by the original Civic Arena development and still wanted to talk about it.  It was clear to me that the people I heard wanted nothing more to do with this building.

After that experience, I began thinking about why I had the position I did which was that the Arena should be saved.  My conclusion was that I wanted it to stay because I liked it.  I, I, I, too, too many I’s for me to be comfortable with.  I took this position because I was being selfish.  I wanted it to stay because I liked it.  Then it occurred to me that this is no basis for a position this important.

Let me be perfectly clear, The Civic Arena is a beautiful building, a building that embodies the Romance and Vision of Mid-century Modernism.  It is a building that I love, but I have come to the conclusion that it must go.

How many people drove by the J&L steel plant this morning while coming in on the Parkway?  No, me either.  It isn’t there because it no longer made sense.

Pittsburgh has remade itself because it has had the courage to move on to new opportunities. This is not about saving a great building (and it is a great building) it is about restoring a great neighborhood and turning the page to the next Pittsburgh chapter. The Arena should go. Thank you very much.”