What's Up Uptown?
The Consol Energy Center is already a busy place, and it’s about to get even busier. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ new home should host at least 41 professional ice hockey games each season for the next several decades, not including the Stanley Cup playoffs, which could also be there on an annual basis. College hockey should be a popular attraction at the “House that Mario Built” as well with Robert Morris University planning quite a few events there, including the men’s Frozen Four in 2013. Other events are set to make their way into Pittsburgh’s newest sports venue too, including concerts and even arena football. So with available dates to hold events at Consol seemingly shrinking by the minute, one would think that the place isn’t taking any more reservations. Not so, says Greg Amodio, Director of Athletics at the arena’s next-door neighbor Duquesne University. “We know that management for the new arena wanted to emphasize that although Consol is the home of Penguins, it could be used for a variety of events,” says Amodio. “The Consol Energy Center is on the doorstep of our university. Only a block away. That’s a tremendous and unique opportunity. Management of the facility has been very gracious with us to be able to take advantage of that and partner with them.” That partnership has already started. The Dukes will host first- and second-round games of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament at Consol in 2012, placing teams in locker rooms outfitted in Duquesne’s red and blue and the University of Pittsburgh’s blue and gold. This year’s City Game between Duquesne and Pitt will also be played at Consol on Dec. 1, one of four Dukes men’s games at the arena this season and the first basketball contest at the new facility. Amodio senses that this might be just the beginning. “We talked with management about the upper-bowl curtaining system at the new arena,” says Amodio. “Essentially, what will happen is that once the upper bowl is curtained off, the suite level comes down to the event level, and you’re left with about an 8,200-seat facility. So, for us to be able to move basketball games there and go from our 4,400-seat Palumbo Center to an 8,200-seat, state-of-the-art facility, that’s a terrific opportunity. “Our hope is that we’re able to create a great home-court advantage there. It’s something that is financially viable for all parties involved, and our fans and students would enjoy it. “We’ll move as many games down there as we think make sense for the building, for our fan base and for our competitive advantage. Our schedule may evolve into as many as seven or eight games per season there.” Speaking of that competitive advantage—-increased attendance and revenue aside—-the Dukes have already gained an edge in recruiting thanks to the proximity of Consol. “That [recruiting] model has proven to be very successful,” says head men’s basketball coach Ron Everhart, leader of a Dukes team trying to make three straight postseason appearances with the 2010-11 season. “St. John’s and Georgetown and the University of Maryland and Villanova… those guys play a lot of their big games in the large sports facilities in their areas, which are obviously very nice. “In our situation, it may benefit us even more than those institutions in that [Consol] is so state-of-the-art and so brand new. I can’t see any reason why that shouldn’t accelerate our recruiting efforts tremendously.” “The residual benefit that we receive as an institution in its entirety,” says Amodio, “specifically with the recruitment of our student-athletes, is that you’re going to see an enhanced amount of amenities in the Lower Hill District. You’re going to see more restaurants going in, more shopping, and as the Penguins continue to develop the Civic Arena site, you’ll see more commercial and more retail [businesses]. “Those are just more activities that will enhance the Lower Hill right off of our campus and allow us to walk prospective student-athletes down there to show them additional hotels and all of the things that will make us much more attractive.” In case you don’t think Amodio is serious about the future of basketball at Duquesne, take a look inside the A.J. Palumbo Center this season. Moving some games to the Consol Energy Center certainly didn’t affect plans to revamp the Palumbo this past summer. The Dukes recently installed new chair-back seats from top-to-bottom on the north side of Palumbo; replaced existing treads, risers and chair-backs on the lower level of the south side of the facility; and added a new, custom-designed, center-hung Daktronics video board to go with four new, lower-level corner scoreboards—all in the name of improving fans’ experience at the home of Dukes basketball and volleyball, not to mention concerts and commencements. And it’s not just benefitting the men. “The improvements to the seating and the more arena-like feel of the Palumbo puts us on a competitive level,” says head women’s basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, leader of a Dukes women’s team that has gone to the WNIT in back-to-back years. “Our locker rooms are also going to be renovated within a year. We know that [recruits] take notice of better locker rooms and better overall facilities, and they want to be comfortable with where they are. “That’s been Greg Amodio. He has been pushing for it.” And with Amodio pushing all the right buttons, the future of Dukes basketball—-at Palumbo Center or Consol—-seems as bright as its present.