To say I was excited about getting a chance to walk around the CONSOL before it officially opens is putting it quite mildly. Like many other Pens fans, I have been excited about our new home from the day they agreed to build it. Now that the inaugural season is quickly approaching with all the talk and pictures from those who have been there before me, it only makes my excitement grow more intense even after being there myself.
I was up that Sunday morning before 5 AM like a kid on Christmas Day anxious to rip open that first gift. Although not previously planned, I thought it was appropriate that I wore my “Home for Good” Penguins shirt when I was searching through things to wear that morning.
My first impression immediately upon entering the CONSOL was probably one similar to what a lot of other fans have and will continue to experience for their first visit; I thought it was absolutely gorgeous and quite breath taking. The most obvious difference is how open the entire facility is which is something I feel will be a positive change in the overall experience of attending a hockey game there. I am very anxious to see it at night when the city is all lit up with a typical Pittsburgh night sky as it’s backdrop.
I wanted to look into what exactly qualified the CONSOL to become LEED Gold Certified, so I spoke to an arena employee who explained that, more specifically, the new arena was constructed with a lot of recycled products such as gypsum board and metal. The bathrooms house low-flow (water-saving) toilets, but the major difference is in it’s efficiency. The CONSOL runs much more efficiently than the Igloo did which enables them to run it for alot less money (the man I was speaking to made sure to emphasize it was saving a considerable amount of money by the building being more efficient which, I’m wondering if, will eventually translate into a savings in ticket prices or in other areas for the rest of us). I’ve also learned since my visit that there are 28 spaces set aside in the new parking garage attached to the arena for low-emission, fuel-efficient cars that will be directed to the specified spaces by parking attendants. But for the most part, the new arena is a state-of-the-art facility that qualifies as an LEED certified building mostly by things that we will not notice and will no doubt take for granted.
Even though I spent close to five hours in our new home at the CONSOL, I still feel like there is plenty more to see and everything I did see can easily take more time to fully see and enjoy; however, I tried to keep everything in perspective and highlight a few of them for this article.
NOTEWORTHY FEATURES (integrating the old with the new)
There are alot of great things in this new arena, most of which have already been discussed in other articles, but the following ones are those that I was most impressed with and enjoyed the most.
- “PNC LegendsLevel Suites”- this is ultimately where alot of the CONSOL’s character comes alive with numerous pieces of “larger-than-life” artwork and photos of the players and the team hanging on the corridor walls and hallways lined with carpeted floors throughout the entire level; but the crowning jewels are the illuminated Legendary Momentsshadow boxes paying tribute to a few of the more memorable moments in the organization’s history including Lemieux scoring five goals five different ways (the display includes all five of those pucks as well as stat sheets for that game) and that very faithful day that most Pens fans are familiar with as “The Lottery” earning us the right to select Sidney Crosby our #1 draft pick in 2005 (and includes the actual #12 lottery ball as well as the envelope).
- UPMC’s “Walk Through Time” begin at various doors throughout the CONSOL leading to one of four stairwells featuring an entire decade of Penguins teams complete with a large mural of that year’s team picture at each level (from each year of that decade), including a complete list of players, the team’s record for that season, and a few interesting facts. Each of the four stairwells features teams from 1967-1979, 1980-1989, 1990-1999, and 2000-2010.
- “Standing Room Only” Platforms are exactly that – platforms that are actually included among the rest of the seats in the arena so instead of being separated from all the action by a large concrete wall as it was in the Igloo, you feel like you are part of the rest of the fans cheering on the Pens (the only downside is you have to stand but those who choose this option are fully aware of this inconvenience prior to purchasing tickets in these areas)
- Snack Counters with Stools – you can sit and enjoy your concession purchase without missing one single minute of the game in various areas of the arena on both levels (and all of them come with a pretty decent view of the ice as well); this was pretty impressive as anyone who has tried to juggle food and a drink when trying to sit in a compact seat while trying to concentrate on the hockey game can fully understand
- Variety of Beer –during my visit, I noticed a lot of the people stopping to check out the large refrigerator units in the smaller kiosk areas that were already stocked with a number of drinks. Personally, my husband was thrilled to see they have Yuengling on tap in a few of the areas (mostly the Loge seating area); granted, all choices are not at every location, but if you’re willing to wander around and don’t mind walking to more than one place, the CONSOL has taken care of a vast number of choices. To illustrate just how broad the spectrum of choices is, my one friend noticed they now offer two of the lesser-known beers she enjoys from Anheuser-Busch: “Shocktop” and “Landshark” (I know I’ve never heard of either of those)
A FEW NEGATIVES (most are very minor, but yes, there are a some)
The CONSOL is not perfect, but it comes pretty darn close (it is arguably the most perfect facility in the NHL at this time which I guess would be somewhat obvious since it’s the newest). You actually have to look pretty hard to find much wrong with it, but it does have a few flaws.
- Obstructed Views - as much as I want to proclaim that there’s not a bad seat in the house (which, for the most part, there isn’t), I did notice that there are still a few areas that may have limited views specifically those seats to the right and left of “standing room only” platforms; they will most likely have their view down the ice to their left or to their right (depending on where they’re situated) obstructed by those standing on the platforms which is significant because those watching the game from the platforms will no doubt have a better, more clear view of the entire ice than those who paid more for a seat; there are quite possibly a few more areas that have an obstructed view, but I didn’t venture through every seat / section in the CONSOL and this is the only one that was the most obvious to me
- Leg and Elbow Room – some sections / rows in the CONSOL still lack leg and elbow room (just as it was with the Igloo); the higher up you get, the less leg room you have which is probably also the reason I noticed that not every seat in this venue has a cup holder to the front of them as well
- Seat Size- as comfortable as the plush, material-covered seats are in the CONSOL and even though my husband read that they were to be “up to” 24 inches, there is still a difference the farther you move up in sections / rows (just as it was at the Mellon Arena). This was something that my husband pointed out to me because it was one of his bigger concerns in hoping for a change for the better being a larger-built man and he did vouge for the fact that they weren’t much wider
- Parking – although the new arena has a four-story garage attached to it which provides an additional 500 parking spaces, the traffic patterns remain the same according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which means that getting in and out of the new arena from the new garage and / or the 5 surface lots outside of the Igloo that will continue to be accessible for events won’t be any easier / faster than it previously was
Overall, the good significantly outweigh the bad and after being inside the CONSOL Energy Center, I highly doubt that any of us fans will have a hard time making the transition from our beloved Igloo. Sure, the Igloo is full of character and treasured memories, but we’ll be able to hold onto those forever especially with the permanent reminders of some of them displayed throughout the new venue. The CONSOL has character of it’s own and alot of new features that will enhance our entire hockey-watching experience, so I truly believe that we’ll be able to fill it with just as many memorable moments and it won’t be long before it truly starts to feel like “home.”