Thursday, December 08, 2005

March of the Penguins

You almost--almost--have to feel sorry for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They waited about seven years too late to hold the franchise hostage over public funding for a new arena. There was a time when Mayor Murphy and his allies in state and county government would have been only too happy to oblige. But the city's finances are in the crapper, the mayor is on his way out, and while Gov. Rendell is determined to pour good money after bad into Pittsburgh redevelopment schemes, it all seems to be headed Downtown.

So where does that leave the Pens? The team is hoping to get a slots license, or failing that, hopes that public officials will pressure whoever does get the license to spend some of the profits on a new arena. Proving that common sense is not dead yet, the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force--which has little real power--is balking. The task force wants whoever gets the license to offer some kind of "community giveback" but they're not sure that a new arena qualifies.

They are right to be suspicious. A new arena would be no more a public asset than PNC Park and Heinz Field. You can certainly make a case that whoever gets the slots license should be expected to give something back to the community. But if Mario wants a new arena, he needs to pay for it himself, or find other private investors who will. And his bid for a slots license should be evaluated on its merits, and not on the possibility that it will yield him a new playground.


Blogger Sherry P said...

i think you said it just right.

10:14 AM

Blogger djhlights said...

A new arena would be no more a public asset than PNC Park and Heinz Field.

Sorry Jonathan, this is flat out wrong.

The difference is specifically that an arena is a multi use facility that is and can be in use for the majority of a calendar year. When you compare the facilities on the North Side to an arena you are comparing apples and oranges.

The arena is more than just the Penguins. The arena is currently in use over 320 days a year that is more than any corporate office facility downtown that works Monday through Friday. Yes, the primary tenants are a third rate hockey team in a league that faces an uncertain future, but we are talking about 41 games in an 82 game season. The other 280 days are the bread and butter for the brothers and sisters of my local and puts more food on the table than the Steelers do 8 regular season Sundays a year. Tell them an arena, especially a new one isn’t a public asset!

I agree that PNC Park and especially Heinz Field are a giant waste of taxpayer’s dollars, but just because you have sports team leading the charge doesn’t mean we will have the same outcome as before. If the Penguins leave, they leave. That still doesn’t change the fact that the major concert venue in the city is getting blown away by other facilities in other cities that were designed to accommodate concerts and other shows and serve as a sports facility. Regretfully nobody listens to the people who work there besides the Penguins, so they get lumped in with the rest of the teams fighting for free venue greed.
Damn that liberal media.

A big problem with shows is the space can’t handle half of the larger acts touring right now. It is more than just seating and ticket sales. You might not know or vaguely remember it happening, but ever since the scoreboard fell after the Celine Dion load in a couple years ago due to the weight of her lighting rig, the rigging points have been limited for the acts coming in due to the weight the dome can handle. Sadly places like the Peterson or Palumbo are rated for even less so we can’t use those venues as an alternative.

The biggest problem is the time needed to load out shows to get them on the road to be in the next city by 7 or 8 am. For example, a load out in Cleveland for U2’s last tour took 2 ½ hours and the load out the next day in Pittsburgh took 6 because you can only load 2 trucks at a time at the arena’s loading dock instead of being able to load 10 trucks at a time. Plus the back of the stage curtain at a venue like the Gund or the Wachovia Center opens right onto the dock. The more you see this and hear this from road crews and friends on the road you might understand why shows don’t come here. Especially when tours such as the one mentioned above run with 40 trailers you can see why they might skip the places that can’t accommodate them or enable them to get to the next city on time.

It really is a worthy investment and a shame that nobody in town is smart enough to realize that we could be like Philly and still keep the other facility and have 2 large venues for concerts and tours that could compete directly for not just concert and parking dollars against venues like Starlake, but also keep RAD dollars in town.

That venue and especially a new larger venue bringing better acts currently is and would be a larger part in the RAD dollars every arts organization in town gets and we are so blind that when we keep losing out to other venues we forget that they might be affected in the long run as well.

What is truly sad is that this town needs a new arena more than it needed the 2 mistakes across the river and the people are going to take out their frustrations on a new arena and continue to cut their noses off despite their faces.

You can debate whether the Penguins need a new facility. You can debate whether their presence is an asset to the city. What you cannot debate is that the Mellon Arena is a multi use facility and the majority use is as a concert venue. That makes it completely different than the behemoths on the North Side. As a concert venue it is inadequate for the modern demands of nationally touring acts. If you don’t believe it from a person who has worked there for years, fine. Just don’t bemoan the fact that certain acts that you might want to see skip Pittsburgh and go to Cleveland or Philly because the arena is part of the reason.

9:49 PM

Blogger Sherry P said...

you have a point about the multi use and the acts, but, i feel that it's still a sort of welfare for the well off, to use any money from the public. if it's a good sound finacial idea that will make money instead of lose money then i would think that investors would be beating down the door to get in on the deal. it just seems that a lot of people don't care to risk their own money, but do want to get richer if the idea works out.

9:10 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

It's not a matter of who uses the arena, or how often it is used, but who profits from it. Heinz Field and PNC Park hosts concerts as well-though nowhere near what an arena could--and it is the respective teams, which control these "public" facilities, that reap the profits. I just don't trust the people who run this city, county and state to make any kind of deal with the Penguins, who presumably would own the facility, that would actually favor the public.

And as much as I would like to see this city get more popular music acts, I don't think that is something that my tax dollars should subsidize. I have no problem with RAD dollars going to support the symphony, ballet, and other cultural assets. But while I'm more likely to pay money to see, say, the Black Crowes--who did as I recall cancel a show once in Pittsburgh because of poor facilities--than go to the symphony, it's not a good use of public funds.

4:26 PM

Blogger Mark Rauterkus said...

The Civic Arena (or the Mellon Arena) is used for things beyond the Penguins of the NHL -- and -- most of all -- it should still be used for those types of events should the PENGUINS get a new arena.

But -- here is the rub -- it won't (according to the status quo / Penguins' vision).

We don't need a new arena to hold DISNEY ON ICE, a Graduation for Carrick High School, nor a TRACTOR PULL. We can use the Civic Arena for those types of events.

We don't need CORPORATE LUXERY BOX SEATS and swivel, leather chairs for a NCAA Division I Women's basketball tournament -- hosted by RMU or DU. The Civic Arena is a fine venue for that.

We don't need the overhead of the extra utilities and expenses for a college hockey game (OSU played as part of a double-header on New Year's Eve a couple of years ago.)

Give me a high school basketball tournament -- PIAA playoffs perhaps -- in the Civic Arena. I saw such games there in the past.

The ABA team, the Pgh Xplosion, could play at the Civic Arena -- without the need for box seats. Golden Gloves, etc., etc.

Those other events don't need what Mario needs.

Think again. I want the civic arena to stay -- paid for -- as a civic arena after the Pens move out, even if the Pens build new digs elsewhere, in town or otherwise.

As for the concert venue -- they can build their own venue too. Or, they can make the new Penguins venue or Pitt's PETE for that. I don't care to use taxpayer money for U2 shows.

3:19 PM

Blogger GaryMClark said...

The lost concert business is the most overrated, misstated aspect of all this. The number of concerts is dictated by the number of acts on tour that can fill a 16,000 seat venue. They also have to be conscious of not cannibalizing a market. If three "classic rock" acts have been through town in 45 days, a fourth act might opt to skip Pittsburgh because the money has already been sucked out. If Disney on Ice has just been through, Sesame Street on Ice might not come, because that audience has been tapped. Pittsburgh is not a big market, it's getting closer to a medium sized market.

The spring and summer concert business goes outdoors. It's a fact of life. Most acts know that people in the northeast hate to go indoors when the weather is good, plus Starlake has a lighter tax bite because it's outside both Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The really big acts (Stones, Springsteen) are going to play PNC or Heinz instead. Both are aggressively seeking bookings.

That leaves fall and winter for a downtown arena and a lot of acts don't tour the northeast in those months because of weather/travel concerns.

Boxing is dead, Pitt has its own on-campus building, Duquesne has no need to leave its campus for basketball, the pro basketball team is dying a quick death, WWF only hits town three or four times a year now. The people who claim the building will be busy constantly need to say who's going to be using it.

5:56 PM


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