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Third Circuit Refuses to Stop Pittsburgh Civic Arena Demolition

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 28, 2011 4:03 PM

Sports arenas often encounter a Velveteen Rabbit problem; eventually, the teams that love theses arenas want something newer, bigger, and flashier. The old arenas are abandoned, forgotten, and finally demolished.

The Pittsburgh Civic Arena, fondly known as the Igloo, suffered a similar Velveteen Rabbit fate. Workers began demolishing the Igloo on Monday after the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency motion for injunction to delay demolition last Friday.

The Igloo, opened in 1961, was the retractable-roof marvel that served as the Pittsburgh Penguins home for 43 years. In August 2010, the Penguins moved across the street to their new arena, the Consul Energy Center. Last September, the Igloo’s owner, Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County (SEA), voted to demolish the structure.

Preservation Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Pittsburgh's historic, architectural, cultural, and environmental heritage, fought against Igloo demolition, generating support to "reuse the Igloo," while pursuing legal claims to save the structure.

The law, however, was not on the group's side.

Preservation Pittsburgh sued the SEA, arguing that the demolition of the Civic Arena was an integral part of a plan to redevelop the site using federal-aid highway funds from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), thus the Igloo's demolition was inextricably related to a transportation project requiring approval of the FHWA.

Had the group succeeded, the claim might have bought them time to execute a viable redevelopment plan for the space.

FHWA approval must be exercised in conformance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Department of Transportation Act (DOTA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Preservation Pittsburgh argued that the SEA's premature demolition of the Civic Arena would evade the evaluations of alternatives to avoid or mitigate the destruction of historic properties mandated by these statutes.

The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Preservation Pittsburgh challenged the decision in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and lost.

The Pittsburgh Civic Arena demolition highlights the fact that nostalgia and the law do not necessarily mesh. What do you think? Could Preservation Pittsburgh have survived a subject matter jurisdiction challenge under a different claim?

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