With all the new arenas having come online in the past two decades, Pittsburgh 's Mellon Arena, more
affectionately referred to as "The Igloo", took its rank as the oldest and most bedraggled and dog eared
of the arenas in the NHL. It's unique architectural style, a retractable domed roof which never really
worked right, asymmetrical balconies and hideous sightlines, narrow and congested concourses, all
made for one of the most special and unique venue experiences in hockey. The new arena, named the
Consol Energy Center , opened its doors right next door amidst the skyscrapers and hotels of
downtown Pittsburgh in the fall of 2010.
Getting to the venue
Consol Energy Center is situated on the east end of the downtown Pittsburgh core, directly across the
street from the now shuttered Mellon Arena. Expressway access is directly off of the I-579/I-279
expressways which run north/south. Ample public parking is available at surface lots on the Mellon
Arena property, and private parking lots and ramps dot the landscape in every direction from the venue.
There is also a light rail line called the "T' which runs to points south of Pittsburgh , including Station
Square . The nearest station, the Steel Station, is still at least a 10 minute walk to the arena.
Outside the venue
There really isn’t that much a “neighborhood” to speak of. Or is there? To the west is the I-579
expressway, not easily traversable, and that leads to the concrete jungle of downtown with not much to
find in terms of eateries and hangouts. A number of high rise hotels encircle Chatham Square , and
south of the arena the campus of Duquesne University sprawls up the hill. 5th avenue , which bisects
the arena and the campus, is a bit dog eared and gritty, but look around and you might find a few blue
collar type taverns to suit your taste. Some ground floor retail is planned for the arena frontage on this
street. The biggest question, however, is what will happen with the old Mellon Arena site, once it is
demolished. This tract of land lies in a convergence among residential, office, campus and arena
properties, and a vibrant “mixed use” village type of development had been planned. One last
recommendation – the Strip District is less than two miles east of the venue, always a good party
Architecture and seating bowl
Beige stamped concrete and brickwork, plenty of glass, including a stunning atrium on the west
façade, and entry points from various levels of the building due to the odd topography of the parcel, all
gives Consol Energy Center its signature look. There are four entrances to the arena, although the
plazas up high on the Mellon Arena side and down low at 5th avenue are the most widely used
Inside, the two level seating bowl offers 18,087 seats for hockey (in deference to #87 Sidney Crosby),
club level seating in the sideline lower bowl, loge boxes and party suites ringing the top of the main
level, and a view of the seating bowl from the concourses. The seats themselves bear the colors of the
steel city yellows, greys and blacks. Two sets of ribbon boards ring the seating bowl, with a four sided
HD scoreboard and additional ribbon boards hanging in the center.
One of the disappointments for this venue was the number of choke points in the concourses, while
other areas had expansive and wide areas to maneuver. We’re assuming this has to do with the
footprint of the building itself. The Penguins went to great lengths to add a number of attractions in the
public spaces around the arena. The Highmark Wall of Champions and the Highmark Kids Zone on
the lower concourse offer recreational diversions for youngsters, and exhibits celebrating hockey in
this region. On the north side of the building are stunning views of the Pittsburgh skyline from virtually
all levels of the building. Another nice touch is the chandeliers hanging in the north side pavilion.
Whenever the home team scores the chandeliers turn bright red, serving as a beacon for the passers
There is an almost dizzying array of food and drink here, some of it offered with a local flair. The
Primanti Brothers sandwich is a Pittsburgh staple. The Iron City and IC Light beer products offered
among a wide choice of microbrews, many of which can be found in the Brewhouse on the second
level, one of the most popular meting spots in the arena. There are pasta and stir fry dishes,
Smokestack BBQ sandwiches, kielbasa and meatball grinders, and the soft drink choice is not coke or
pepsi, but rather royal crown cola.
Two numbers… Michael Briere #21, who played for the team in the 70s, and Mario Lemieux’s #66,
both hag in the rafters. That, along with the three Stanley Cup championship banners and the team’s
various division and conference banners. We should mention here the awesome interactive all time
team and Stanley Cup display in the main lobby. Essentially, these are giant screen touch pads which
bring their “virtual” Stanley Cups to life with a lot of historical data and photos. One can also bring up
the names of the best Penguins ever to play the game, with similar data. The display is open to the
public on non game days and is worth the time to check out.
Loge boxes are kind of the new thing in club seating, offering swivel chairs, TV sets and internet touch
screens at each chair, positioned along a rail. Both sideline club seating areas offer access to a
private club lounge. The Captain Morgan Club and First Niagara Club offer bars, bistro style
concessions and a rail view of the action on the ice. The fine dining option here is called the Lexus
Club, a 200+ seat restaurant with exquisite views of the downtown skyline.
Hat tricks, assists, penalties...
Hat trick – to Penguins fans, whose amazing sellout streak goes back to the days in the Igloo, and is
now at over 200 straight games. Hockey tickets remain a precious commodity in this city.
Assist – To Penguins Vice President of PR Tom McMillan, who graciously took time out of his busy
schedule to conduct and take us a through a very thorough and comprehensive tour of the arena. Mike
Harrington from the Buffalo News came along as well. Thanks Tom and a berth in the USRT Hall of
Fame goes to you!
Hat trick – to an area of the building most fans will never get to see. The layout and deisgn of the home
team’s loker room and lounge space raises the bar for other teams to emulate.; The main dressing
room has a lit ceiling replicating the roof of the old Igloo, and the recreational space would have
players never wanting to leave.
What makes the Consol Energy Center experience so special are all the little touches – the steel
supports in the concourses representing the region’s industry. The high tech interactive features. The
art. The color of design to blend this arena and team with that of its peer facilities, PNC Park and Heinz
Field. The action on the ice is still the primary focus, but there is enough to see and do here at the
arena when not watching the game to keep one entertained and satisfied. The location is a work in
progress; the place is comfortable; the team has a winning hockey tradition. There is almost a
swagger around this place. Hey, why not!
Fan Support 8
Concourses/fan comfort 6
Bonus: Virtual exhibits 2, Red chandeliers 1, USRT assist 2, Primanti Bros 1
March 8, 2011