18 August 2010

First Visit- Consol Energy Arena

During an open house for season ticket holders, my son and I visited Pittsburgh's brand new arena over the weekend.

Our view from section 116 is at the left. Stop by and I'll buy you a beer. The odd bend in the glass is actually one of the new side entrances for the Zamboni and would be closed during a game. I hope.

The place is impressive to say the least. I'm no architect but I appreciated the way they nestled the massive structure into a relatively small parcel of land in downtown Pittsburgh- part of one side is curved to make way for the grand old structure of Epiphany Catholic Church and the arena uses the elevation change from front to back with a system of glass walls and escalators to highlight the view of the city.

Once inside, I was struck by the "new arena smell"- sort of like buying a new car. No old Igloo funk of stale beer and popcorn here, at least not yet. I made a point of trying out the new bathrooms and was amazed to see actual urinals instead of the old troughs that consumed millions of gallons of processed brew during hockey season. On a safety note, I was glad to see the wide open concourses, stairs and escalators that should make exiting a game a whole lot less exciting with 15,000 of your closest friends. While coming and going, the Penguins preserved the neat touch of hanging local high school hockey team's jerseys on the wall and added local amateur teams as well. There is also lots of interactive displays for the kids and touch screen displays that highlight Penguin players of the past- if they are still working in a year, I'll be amazed.

The ice surface looked great, as would be expected, and I marvelled at the completely clear Plexiglas and unmarred dasher boards. As usual, the Penguins organization went out of their way to make everyone feel appreciated and had all of the concession stands open. My son and I spent an hour in our new seats eating hot dogs and marvelling at the place. He even managed some time on the new jumbo tron (or whatever they call them these days) as the camera man happily obliged him hamming it up for the relatively sparse crowd (the open house lasted 8 hours- we, of course, were waiting in line when it opened.) Thankfully, he agreed after much protesting that morning that he wouldn't wear his Montreal jersey.

Let's see what can I say negative about the place...

Well, I have to admit I'm a bit peeved at the "yuppie creep" that seems to have infected the NHL, and other sports. I realize that the Penguins are a business that needs to earn money and therefore catering to the yuppie crowd makes economic sense. Still, the special club seating and gourmet food offerings kind of make me shake my head. I also firmly believe that the yuppie fan, the highly paid young executive sitting in the stands with his shirt and tie still on for work (and Penguins jersey over top, which by the way looks completely gay) is not the kind of fan base you want. They are the first ones to abandon ship when the team hits an invariable downturn and starts to lose. Once the "coolness" wears off for the new arena, and the Penguins hit a slump, he will be off to find a better place to be seen.

"A-ha !" You exclaim, "you must be a rich bastard to be sitting so close to the ice." Actually, I'm not. My budget priorities are a bit difficult to understand, but in the midst of my business failing and a mortgage foreclosure a few years back, I made sure that my season ticket payment went in first. Thankfully, my otherwise sane and well grounded wife grew up with a family that had season tickets since the early 70's so she understands the immense hole we put ourselves into on an annual basis in order to afford this luxury. Call it bread and circuses if you must, but I never get tired of going to a game, drinking a beer (or three) and watching some hockey.

As an Anarchist I should rail against the use of tax revenues to build this barn but my view is that it is money well spent. Unlike most tax revenues which are wasted on worthless projects (and worthless bureaucrats) the new arena will be an asset to the city that millions of people will use over the next 50 to 75 years- hockey fans, concerts and shows, conventions etc. The money that built the arena was paid to local workers and craftsmen who built it, and the arena will help to keep Pittsburgh from sliding to even great irrelevance on the national and international scene.

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