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Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center – An Inside Peek

So this past Tuesday we finally got our first glimpse and experience at the Consol Energy Center, the new home of the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins.

We were impressed. Blown away is more like it.

We’ve already come to know that when it comes to sports venues in Pittsburgh, they do things here with a sense of tradition, style and flair. The Steelers’ Heinz Field has earned the #2 spot in our NFL venue rankings, and PNC Park, the home of the Pirates, would easily win one of our top scores, had it not been for their surly and miserable game day staff which sunk them.

Tom McMillan, the team’s head of Public Relations, graciously gave us the VIP tour, and our friend and colleague Mike Harrington from the Buffalo News also came along to check things out. McMillan has been around the team for close to two decades, as a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and then with team’s front office, and was showing off his new digs almost like a proud father.

Some of the highlights? Certainly the technology. The HD scoreboard is
a monster, another Mitsubishi product, and the screen alone is larger than the entire scoreboard at the old Mellon Arena. Two levels of 360 ribbon boards encircle the seating bowl. But it is the technology in the public areas that blew us away.

On the 100 level concourse is an interactive area for youngsters, sponsored by the local Blue Cross/Blue Shield. But this is no ordinary play area with bubble hockey and bounce houses. There are touch screens with games and player info, and even a camera screen where one can have a photo taken with a virtual player. Then down in the main lobby, another series of touch screens, showcasing the best players to wear the Penguins uniform over the decades, with stats, video highlights and other info. The Penguins’ three Stanley Cups are also showcased in virtual format, on touch screens which enable viewers to tap on the image of the Cup and access names and information.

In designing the arena, architects took elements from peer venues in such buildings as Phoenix and Minnesota to incorporate here. The upper level concourse is at the very top of the seating bowl, offering views of the playing surface from every vantage point. Downstairs, concession areas are mostly set up in food court style so as not to impede traffic flow. The topography of the building’s footprint is such that the arena is built on a sloping hill, and that offers three distinct entrances at three different levels of the arena.

And with a glass wall facing the downtown skyline, the views are stunning, especially from the Brewhouse on the upper level, where even fans from the lower level head up to congregate and hang out in one of the coolest places in the city.

The arena has a real Steel City vibe, with exposed steelwork in the concourses and seating bowl paying tribute to this city’s heritage. The Penguin’s great history is also showcased here. They don’t pretend to be one of the Original Six, but they certainly toot their horn as the marker among the Next Six, and through murals, displays, and well presented banners in the rafters, you immediately get a sense of history and tradition and that you are part of a very special place.

This area of downtown Pittsburgh is a mish mosh of high rise office towers, hotels, sunken expressways, the old Mellon Arena next door which awaits eventual demolition and redevelopment, a gritty neighborhood of older buildings which also need some t.l.c., and up the hill the campus of Duquesne University. No distinct “bar district”, but with a little exploration there are places to be found, from hole-in-the-wall dive bars to hotel bistros to a Damon’s restaurant at the ground level of the nearby UPMC tower.

Going to the ‘Burgh is always a great road trip, just a quick three hour drive from Buffalo. If you can snag a ticket to a Pens game, do so. The game day experience is one not to be missed.

Interactive touch panels in the main lobby

They call this the largest goalie mask in the world. No one has stepped forward to dispute this yet

Check out the amazing scoreboard

Primanti’s! Primanti’s! A Pittsburgh taste treat not to be missed!