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Excitement in Pittsburgh as new arena rises

by Adam Kimelman
Another sellout crowd stuffed Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh for Game 5 of the Penguins' Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Philadelphia Flyers, the 110th consecutive regular-season and playoff sellout.

Built in 1961 for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Mellon is the oldest arena in the League still in use, and spending time in the building, it looks every day of its 48 years.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman talked earlier in the series of the hockey renaissance in Pittsburgh, and one of the biggest pieces of that re-emergence can be seen on the other side of Centre Avenue.

That's where the steel structure of the brand new Consol Energy Center is almost completely in place, and every day a new benchmark is reached in the construction process.

The players, who turn left off Centre to get into the Mellon Arena parking lot, can't help but notice the new building growing by the day.

"It's pretty amazing how fast it's coming up," center Jordan Staal told "It's a really neat feeling to see that thing grow, how big it looks and how exciting it looks."

The building is scheduled to open for the start of the 2010-11 season. The new arena will seat 18,087 for hockey and feature 62 luxury suites, both numbers far higher than the current building.

There also will be a center ice-hung scoreboard which feature four 14-by-25 foot high-definition screens, and also will have a number of environmentally-safe "green" features.

Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer said the green features won't raise the cost of the $321 million building; part of that is because the club found it too expensive to install solar panels.

While they won't have those, the arena still hopes to gain LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED is a national standard that uses a point system to rate how buildings affect the environment. The efficiency with which a building uses water and electricity, how much high-quality indoor air it provides and the amount of locally-made materials used in construction -- which cuts down on pollution from shipping -- factor in to the rating. The number of points earns a building basic certification or silver, gold or platinum levels.

Said Sawyer, "We'll be the first gold-certified stadium or arena." Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Thrashers, earned LEED certification in April, the only building in the League to earn such recognition.

That's just one of the things the Penguins hope their new home is recognized for. GM Ray Shero gets more pumped every day as he drives past the new home while entering the old one.

"Someone just mentioned you can see where center ice is going to be, where the locker rooms are going to be," Shero told "It's exciting and it's going to be great for the city."

Shero said the construction in Pittsburgh reminded him of when he worked for the Ottawa Senators and Scotiabank Place was being built.

"Being in the same situation, standing at center ice when it was just dirt, things are going up around you," Shero said. "It's fun to see."

As much as Shero said he's looking forward to moving into Consol Energy Center, he will miss Mellon. While the building is aging its way out of usefulness, it has a certain feeling to it that will be lost in the new home.

"I like old buildings," Shero said. "I'm going to be sad to see the Spectrum go down in Philadelphia, I had a lot of great memories there. Even this building here … we're going to make the most of it while we're here. We see the building going up across the way, it's going to be incredible and it secures the future here in Pittsburgh. But while we're here at old Mellon Arena, we're going to enjoy it and take every advantage we can."

There will be advantages at the new building, and the sellout crowds certainly will be there when it opens.

"You look at it every day when you come by, you see something different," Shero said. "I went down there a couple weeks ago, and it's really something to see."

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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