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Not a bad seat in the Consol Energy Center

Drawn first by a love for hockey and later by the demands of his job, Tom McMillan, 53, has been visiting National Hockey League arenas for the better part of five decades.

While new and shiny venues kept popping up, McMillan, the Penguins' vice president of communications, almost always walked away disappointed.

"You see all the other arenas, and you envy all the other arenas for 40 years, and you say, 'Can you imagine if we had an arena like this?'" McMillan said.

"And now we have."

Pens fans get their first peek at the $321 million arena during a Sept. 22 preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings. McMillan promises an experience they have never seen.

"If your only experience was Mellon Arena, you will be shocked," he said. "There isn't a bad seat in the house. There are no obstructed seats."

McMillan said there were 3,000 semi-obstructed seats at the Civic Arena.

"Here, every seat has a great view," he said.

With the center's extensive bank of windows and two spacious concourses, pedestrians on Washington Place can practically see the game on the ice below.

With two bowls of seats — lower and upper — fans walk down to access them, as opposed to trudging up steep steps at Heinz Field, PNC Park and the Civic Arena. The descending slope creates a perk: The person seated in front of you seldom will block your view.

"We used our CEO, Ken Sawyer, who is 6-foot-5, as a test, and we could see over his head," McMillan said.

McMillan, who first visited Civic Arena in 1964, said it was originally built to hold about 12,000 people, and that was the number the concourses and bathrooms were built to accommodate. But over time, capacity grew to 17,000, and two balconies were added.

When the arena was designed in the 1950s, "nobody foresaw some of this stuff. They built an arena that was really cool for 1959," he said.

The crowded conditions at the Civic Arena shouldn't emerge at Consol, he said. Two levels of concourses should ease congestion between periods, when fans walk to restrooms or line up at concession stands.

Other features McMillan said will make Consol stand out:

» Rows of black seats, interrupted by rows of gold seats, will give the arena a distinctive Pittsburgh feel.

» A four-sided, 70,000-pound scoreboard. Just one screen on it is bigger than the scoreboard at Mellon.

» 66 suites (15 more than the Civic Arena), and 32 loge boxes, which offer semi-private seating, (the Civic Arena had none) equipped with TV screens.

» A spectacular view of the Golden Triangle that can be seen from the upper concourse.

"People with the cheapest seats have the best view of the city skyline," McMillan said.

By the numbers

Facts and figures about Consol Energy Center:

800 — Number of HD TVs throughout the building

386 — Number of toilets and urinals

35 — Weight in tons of the scoreboard

18,087 — Seating capacity for hockey games

19,100 — Seating capacity for basketball games

20,000 — Seating capacity for center-stage concerts

10 — Percent increase in ticket prices over Mellon Arena seating

150 — Projected number of events per year, including 45-50 hockey games

4 — Clusters of speakers built into the roof

Source: Consol Energy Center

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