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New Uptown arena to match neighborhood

The new Uptown arena will help make the Penguins better neighbors this time around, officials said Tuesday.

Despite having 18,500 seats and an eight-story glass wall facing the city, the arena should look like it fits with the buildings around it, team CEO Ken Sawyer said.

"What we're trying to do is match the character of the neighborhood," he said.

The team submitted its arena designs yesterday to the city Planning Commission, which is expected to hear a briefing Nov. 27, take a preliminary vote next month and consider final approval in January.

Team officials hope to break ground before summer and open for the 2010 season.

Surrounded by parking lots, Mellon Arena has a more suburban design, said Don Carter, president of Urban Design Associates, a Downtown-based consulting group hired by the team and city. The new arena will fit into an urban plan.

The city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority plans to raze Mellon Arena for a 28-acre neighborhood development after the new building opens.

"A lot of people have had some input," Carter said. "This is the (design) most people were comfortable with."

After meetings with residents, public officials and other stakeholders, the arena designs changed from a contemporary river theme to a more traditional look, said Wayne London, an architect with HOK Sport of Kansas City.

The proposed arena would have more brick on its exterior and fewer contemporary metal panels. It would have 2.5 acres of green space, with outdoor plazas for community events. Along Fifth Avenue, the facade would be broken up to look more like nearby buildings.

A glass atrium facing Downtown would stretch along Washington Avenue and be topped by an outdoor balcony with restaurants.

A four-story, 500-space parking garage would sit on the opposite side of the arena with a surface parking lot and space for a hotel.

Penguins officials traveled around the league to see what they wanted inside the building.

They picked the top-down entry points from Minnesota, open lounges in North Carolina, the larger seat sizes in Phoenix and Boston's high-definition electronic screen, Sawyer said.

The arena would have wider interior concourses than Mellon Arena, as well as places where fans could access concession stands and still be able to watch the action on the ice.

"We are picking the best of the best and putting it in this building," London said.

While the team is trying to stick to a $290 million budget, Sawyer said the price could go up before construction managers set a guaranteed maximum price next summer.

The public would share in cost increases up to $310 million. After that, the Penguins will pick up any cost overruns.

The state is paying $8.5 million upfront and $7.5 million a year for 30 years. Majestic Star Casino agreed to pay $7.5 million a year for 30 years. The team is paying $4.2 million a year toward the arena and $500,000 a year for the parking garage.

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