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Razing Civic Arena to cost $2.9 million

| Friday, July 8, 2011

The city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority on Thursday moved forward with tearing down the vacant Civic Arena, despite a federal lawsuit to save it.

The SEA, which owns the arena, awarded Noralco Corp. of Penn Hills a $2.9 million contract to demolish the former home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 59-year-old company, according to president Allen J. Cousin, also has razed past Pittsburgh icons, including Forbes Field, the Kaufmann's warehouse in the North Side and the former Children's Hospital in Oakland.

Noralco was the lowest of three bidders that met all the specifications the SEA requested. The second-lowest came from Independence Excavating of Pittsburgh at $3.5 million. Three bidders failed to meet requirements for being able to remove asbestos.

"We bid low, we get a job. We bid high, we don't get a job," Cousin said.

The company will get salvage rights to most of the arena, according to the contract. Some items, including center ice, gate pylons and a portion of the outdoor marquee, will be saved to be incorporated into any redevelopment at the 28-acre site.

Noralco vice president George F. Boehm said the company hopes to make $1 million from the salvage effort.

Cousin said the company uses union workers. SEA employees said the company also met requirements for female and minority employees.

SEA Executive Director Mary Conturo said the demolition should begin with asbestos removal in August and take nine to 10 months.

Some materials will be donated to nonprofits. Construction Junction in Point Breeze, which sells and donates recycled building materials, will receive ceiling tiles, floor tiles and some lights. Goodwill Industries will receive fax machines, copiers, computers and other equipment.

SEA Project Executive Douglas Straley said some of the items were included in auctions of arena memorabilia, but no one bid on them.

Urban Tree Forge, a for-profit furniture manufacturer in Lincoln-Lemington that accepts "salvaged" trees, will receive more than a dozen trees to turn into lumber.

The SEA also voted to distribute a collection of architectural drawings, videos of the arena and other memorabilia to Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Heinz History Center for educational and public use.

The SEA will pay the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation $30,000, about half the cost, to produce a guidebook that will honor "mid-modern architecture" throughout Western Pennsylvania, including the Civic Arena, Conturo said.

The demolition contract was scheduled for a vote well in advance of a federal lawsuit that Preservation Pittsburgh filed on Wednesday. The group contends that redeveloping the site would violate federal law because the effort would use federal highway funds.

"This appears to be the latest attempt to delay our work," Conturo said. "We are confident about our legal position."

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