The Penguins were gracious enough to bring most of our April group back for a follow-up tour just ahead of some grand opening activities that will be getting underway this weekend.
You all may remember that I had the opportunity to tour the CONSOL Energy Center back in April. To say that it was still very much a construction site at that point would be an understatement. Yes it looked an awful lot like a hockey arena, but it was a far cry from what it is today… maybe the finest arena in the National Hockey League.
The Penguins were gracious enough to bring most of our April group back for a follow-up tour just ahead of some grand opening activities that will be getting underway this weekend. Knowing that they have so much on tap made me that much more appreciative of the opportunity, as they are tying off loose ends and having final meetings etc. So before I get into anything else let me send a special thank you Tom McMillan and Chris DeVivo who went out of their way to make the tour a reality.
With that… let’s hit it…
First of all, I have been seeing the outside of the building come together for weeks and spent some time checking it out when I was in town for the Prospect Camp a few weeks back. They did a wonderful job of making the building look modern and clean. The lettering on the CONSOL Energy Center signage really pops and draws your eye…I especially liked that it was so far up the wall on the fifth avenue side, which allowed me to take a great photograph with the clear blue sky behind it.
There are a number of store fronts built on the Fifth Ave side of the building and all are supposed to be filled with restaurants. That will probably make for a nice destination spot while events are going on and the City/Penguins are hoping that as the area develops it might just become a destination spot every day.
We entered the building via the American Eagle Gate which leads into the lobby of the Penguins offices. Yes…they have a lobby now…something that wasn’t available to them in Mellon Arena. We signed in and walked towards a jaw dropping display that is very reminiscent of what they do at the NHL Hall of Fame. There are a series of offset panes of glass that have been etched with pictures of all of the NHL’s major awards including the President’s Trophy, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup. Under each etching is the names and or years in which Penguins players or teams have achieved the above. It is a great way to brandish what their teams have done over the years and it looked great.
One of the nice things about the new building is that there are elevators and escalators available to help you navigate the building. When we were here the first time we were relegated to step duty and though it wasn’t a problem, we all appreciated being whisked around the building on this hot summer’s day. We rode up one level and immediately headed for ice level, something that we were all anxious to see.
The entire trip down the runway to the ice was probably the biggest WOW moment of the day, because that is when the reality of this new cathedral of hockey hit us all. We approached the ice and past by the amazing Suite 66 (more on that soon) and towards the player runway. We all walked down and out onto the player bench and were blown away by what we saw… LEDs flashing all over the arena, advertising lit up, the gigantic jumbotron showing the “new” Star Trek, the black and gold banded seating and most importantly… the ice and nets in place and ready to go. It all made it that much more real…
The group spent some time there snapping pictures and drinking it all in, but then it was time to head back and check out Suite 66.
Suite 66 was designed to give the Penguins a way to entertain their corporate sponsors and other VIPs. As Tom McMillan said today:
“Football teams have the luxury of being able to take their corporate sponsors down on the field for warm ups and pregame activities…we can’t do that here. Suite 66, though not exactly the same, gives us a way to bring some of these folks down on the field so to speak.”
The suite itself contains a bar/winery,areas for food, plenty of seating, glass windows that allow the patrons to watch the players head from the locker room and out onto the ice and a cache of Mario Lemieux artifacts. The “Big Guy” donated a number of items to the team for use in the suite including a number of his mini trophies (Art Ross, Hart etc.), his 500th goal stick, his 600th goal stick and the stick with which he scored 5 goals, 5 different ways. All are displayed behind glass for all to see… prior to being displayed in Suite 66 the items were displayed in Mario’s home.
Locker Rooms, Training and Equipment Areas…
The locker room is head and shoulders above many of those that I have had the opportunity to see. The room is huge, which will allow plenty of space for interviews and interaction with the players following practices and games. The room contains a television and video set up so that they can watch tape on the fly. They also have access to a dry erase board and other coaching tools, none of which were available in their locker room at Mellon Arena. Previously they would have to move room to room if they wanted to view tape and or draw up plays.
One interesting touch in the room is the ceiling. The architects gave a nod to Mellon Arena in that ceiling is domed and done in the same material that is on the roof of Mellon. Very cool nod to history there…
The locker room spills right out into the lounge which is easily 2.5 times the one that was available to the team at Mellon Arena. There is plenty of room for sitting around, eating, playing video games, watching that multiple televisions or playing some rod hockey! Great seeing the bubble boy hockey game sitting in the middle of the lounge for the boys to utilize.
The lounge features pictures of all of the active Penguins as well as team pictures of all of the previous teams. They want these guys to be aware of who came before them… just another classy nod to their history.
Exiting the lounge takes you past the equipment rooms. Yes, I said equipment rooms. Dana Heinze and his staff used to have to work in hallways, tiny spaces and wherever they could find room, but now they have multiple specialty areas. There is a “skate room” which contains all skate supplies, sharpeners etc and there is a “stick room.” Another small touch, but it is all part of what is making this building something special for all involved.
The training, hydrotherapy and workout rooms all flank the equipment areas. Let me be the first to tell you that the training facilities in the CONSOL Energy Center are the type that could seal the deal with a free agent who is teetering between two comparable offers. The coolest aspect was the actual training room which has banks of stationary bikes, plenty of weight machines and a track that the players can run/sprint on. Previously players were forced to sprint in the cement corridors at Mellon Arena. This area provides them with a shock absorbing surface that is healthier for their bodies. Great touch…
Do not think that the Penguin only went all out for themselves, as the visiting team facilities are amongst the best that I have seen. The visiting locker room is huge (by visiting team standards) and is actually comparable in size to that of the Penguins own locker room in Mellon Arena. The room also contains a television/video hook-up and dry erase boards.
The CONSOL Energy Center will have plenty of fan friendly areas. Some of them cannot be mentioned or shown just yet, but let me tell you that you will be blown away.
There will be some interactive areas, some “Hall of Fame” all-time great areas and things that you will be able to come in and check out through out the day…even when there isn’t a game.
The official team store is huge and will be a fresh breath of air to those who are used to shopping in Penstation which was the official store in Mellon Arena. There you felt like you were trying on your neighbor as much as the jersey you were trying to purchase. It was virtually impossible to navigate the store during an intermission and most folks I know tended to avoid it at all costs. The new PensGear store provides hundreds of square footage filled with all of your favorites including plenty of 2011 Winter Classic swag.
Speaking of fan friendly amenities… the seating itself is going to impress you. First of all, there is plenty of knee room. I know that was a big problem for some at Mellon Arena and it is one that sleeps with the fishes. You can comfortably sit in the sit and not interfere with those around…at least not as much as you might have in the old digs. Not only are the seats comfortable, but I made a point of sitting in the “worst seat in the house” (the last row in the building) and it was a great view. The “rake” of the seats is just steep enough to keep you above those in front of you and there are no obstructed view seats. I don’t think anyone is going to have any complaints with their seat locales in this building.
You can also see the ice/Jumbotron very clearly from the open concourses. I was surprised at how well I could see form above the 200 level. As I said… not a bad seat in the house…
We all knew that the Brew House was going to be a destination spot for the masses and that hasn’t changed. The BH provides the finest views of the city, the best natural light and plenty of areas to mill around with your pals while slamming some suds. There are drink rails and plenty of tables, all of which will probably get a great work out regardless of the event that is going on.
There are also several clubs available for consumption including the First Niagra Club which looked to be similar to the Igloo Clubs that were in Mellon Arena and the Lexus Club which is on the higher end. The Lexus Club is the type of place that could be rented out for receptions etc and the Penguins are hoping that folks will utilize it that way… especially based on the fact that both Heinz Field and PNC Park have clubs that are used for that sort of thing.
Art work is strategically placed around the building and most of it is great! There are some amazing snapshots of your favorite Penguins as well as some abstract paintings of current and former players. It is really going to be the kind of place that you will probably see something new every time that you go for the first year or so…
Last but not least, the bathrooms are very spacious. I didn’t see a ladies room, but I made a point of checking out a men’s room. They did away with troughs (not without a fight BTW) but there should be plenty of available lavatories for all of your lavatory needs! There are also plenty of stalls and sinks available…hopefully the loooong lines at Mellon Arena are a thing of the past.
The control room in this place looks like a room out of NASA. However, they aren’t launching space craft, they are putting on an amazing game presentation. There are monitors everywhere, a huge server room, a full television studio that apparently impressed a local news team, and much more. There are remote controlled cameras that are apparently going to be used in creating coaching tapes for the players, producing amazing replays and everything else that you have grown accustomed to when it comes to PensTV.
The press box is three times the size of the one that was in Mellon Arena and it is set up in a much better way. There are plenty of seats for home based and traveling media, the broadcasters have their own rooms, as does management. Now they did have a similar set up in Mellon Arena, but they were broken up around the press box. Now everything is in one area, which should make things much easier for all involved.
Folks who are in charge of music, lighting etc will all also be up in the press box in their own game presentation perch. That will really help their cause as they will be close to the control room and they can all easily work together.
* * * * * *
Overall, get ready to have this building blow your mind. This is going to take some getting used to for all involved as it is light years ahead of what we were all used to across the street. This is a top of the line facility in every possible way and I personally cannot wait for you all to see it so that I can get your opinions. I hope that this blog gave you all an idea of what you are in store for and that you enjoyed it and the pictures. Feel free to drop comments and or questions if there is anything else specific that you would like me to cover…
View my full photo album over at Flickr!