Puck Daddy - NHL

Three years ago last month, Pittsburgh Penguins fans waited with bated breath about news regarding the team's future in the Steel City. Mellon Arena, the oldest building in the NHL, was sorely outdated and a new home was needed for the Penguins. After months on edge and endless rumors about the team moving to Kansas City, Mario Lemieux addressed the Mellon Arena crowd before a game against the Boston Bruins Buffalo Sabres and informed them that a new arena deal was struck and the team would be staying in Pittsburgh.

Now, about five months away from playing their first exhibition game of the 2010-11 season, construction is finishing up on the new Consol Energy Center right across the street from Mellon Arena. Shooting for LEED certification, the arena is expected to be the greenest arena in all of sports in terms of it affecting the environment.

The need for a new arena hinged on the fact that the Penguins could develop more revenue with luxury seating and better amenities for fans. The capacity  will be just over a thousand more than Mellon Arena - 18,087 for hockey. As far as luxury seating and amenities go, Consol Energy Center will feature 1,950 club seats at center ice; 236 loge box seats; four conference rooms that be set to hold between 40-160 people; and in keeping with the theme of getting around easily, 12 escalators - 10 more than what's currently at Mellon Arena. 

Several Pittsburgh-area bloggers and myself were invited to tour the new digs on Friday and we were all blown away by what is coming inside.

After the jump, a photo expedition inside the Penguins' future home.

This will likely be the main entrance to Consol Energy Center with four other points of entry at Centre Avenue Lower Entrance, Centre Avenue Upper Entrance, Fifth Avenue and Washington Place. As soon as fans walk through the door, they'll notice the incredible amount of space to move around and the first thing they'll see is the 4000 square foot Pens team store and the box office. There will be five other small stores throughout the arena on the different levels.

To the left of that entrance will be the Trib Total Media All-Time Team exhibit, with interactive video touch screens inside those outlined rectangles along the wall. This area and the videos will be updated often as the Pens expressed the desire to keep it fresh and make it so fans don't see the same thing every time they walk in the door. The Pens will keep this entrance open year round for fans to visit.

Like many new stadiums and arenas, the Consol Energy Center will feature very wide concourses to assist with crowd flow. No more being elbow to elbow with other fans as you leave the building. The concourses on each level will also be open and feature 800 HD TV screens throughout, so fans won't miss any of the game if they need to hit the head or run to the concession stand.

This view is from one of the handicapped sections on the first level. With any seat in the house, fans will feel closer to the ice. Even the last seat in the upper level, there won't be a need to bring a box of tissues in case of nosebleeds.

Even in the last row of the upper level you'll get a good view of the entire rink.

Here you also see the new scoreboard that will will be above and beyond the one inside Mellon Arena. It will be 25ft wide and 15ft high. The picture quality will be true 720p HD, brighter than any LCD TV you can buy and more contrast than any other screen in the NHL.

There will be a noticeable difference in how Penguins games look on FSN Pittsburgh next season. The television cameras will be closer to the ice. With Mellon Arena, the Penguins had to work with how the building was originally designed and didn't want to make any drastic changes and end up losing seating capacity. At the new place, they were able to strategically design aspects of the arena without it affecting any other areas. The cameras will be positioned just above the lower level so that fans standing up or waving their hands won't block the view on television like in some arenas in the NHL.

The new state-of-the-art workout room will also feature a small running track for players to warmup on. Currently, the Penguins running underneath the arena and given its' age, sometimes need to avoid puddles of water while doing so.

Having seats in the upper level may not bring you as close to the ice as other areas, but one benefit will be the fact you can hit the concourse and run into the Brew Pub, a bar with a view of the Pittsburgh skyline.

Part of that view will include Mellon Arena until they tear it down.

The current press box at Mellon Arena can hold up to 59 media members, which has made things hairy the past two seasons when the Penguins made deep runs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Extra media needed to be put in a lounge area and watch the games on televisions because of the lack of accommodations. The press box at Consol Energy Center will be able to hold 149 members of the press. From eyeballing it, it'll cover eight sections of the arena. It's big. When special events such as the Stanley Cup playoffs or a All-Star Games are held there, the press will be able to be accommodated with ease, especially in the new media workroom.

A welcomed featured for media members will be the additions of hanging HD TV's in front of the press box. Broadcasting the FSN Pittsburgh feed, media will be able to view replays in higher quality right in front of them.

***

The Penguins plan to hold a couple of events as part of a soft opening - including Ty Conklin's favorite artist, Lady Gaga - before the team plays the first of its three preseason games next year. There's no timetable on how long Mellon Arena will stand before being knocked down, but the overwhelming vibe from fans is that while the Igloo will be missed, there is a large amount of anticipation to move over to the new building. Mellon Arena, like any older arena in sports, has its certain charms to it, but in this day and age, limits the Penguins from being able to earn more revenues and host large events such as the NCAA tournaments in hockey and basketball and future NHL All-Star games and Entry Drafts.

The team took ideas from various new arenas around the League like Phoenix and Columbus and incorporated them into the project. There's a lot of talking with other franchises who have new buildings in the design process. Going over what worked and what didn't work is an important factor in the overall design. The Penguins also factored in their specific market into how Consol Energy Centerwas built and there likely won't be a fan who'll be disappointed with the end product.

Big thanks to Pens Director of Media Technology Chris DeVivo and VP of Communications Tom McMillan for the invitation.

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