Looking out over the construction of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ shining new steel arena, David Morehouse MC/MPA 1999 could be forgiven for thinking back to when he was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, sneaking into the old Civic Arena to watch the city’s legendary hockey team, or to when he was a welder working on construction sites just like this.
Morehouse is now the president of the Stanley Cup-champion Penguins. He was responsible for negotiating the team’s deal with local authorities and private investors to build the new arena, which will be named Consol Energy Center. And he will be responsible for keeping the arena full when the Penguins start playing there later this year.
It’s perhaps not an unexpected place for Morehouse to find himself, given a career full of improbable turns that have taken him to the White House, the Kennedy School, and presidential campaigns.
It started, appropriately, by accident. Morehouse had gone to work as a welder and high steel rigger, joining the boilermaker’s union out of high school. One day he was hit by a steel beam on a construction site.
“It knocked some sense into me and sent me to college,” Morehouse jokes. Four years out of high school, Morehouse attended community college and then Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University as the steel industry began to collapse.
He followed a family tradition of political involvement — his uncle was Democratic Party chair of the city — working on local politics until the Clinton campaign rolled into the state. He volunteered, beginning as a campaign driver; worked his way up to advance man; and proved valuable enough that he followed the campaign all the way to the White House.
By the end of President Clinton’s first term, Morehouse had become director of strategic planning of the White House’s drug policy office; that experience led him to a position as deputy director of DARE, the national drug abuse education project.
After a relentless decade, Morehouse’s arrival at the Kennedy School in 1998 marked the beginning of a very special time. “Next to my marriage and the birth of my children, it is the best experience I have ever had,” says Morehouse. “I was able to focus on myself and educate myself. I was surrounded by brilliant people. It followed four years of working in the Clinton administration and was just good for me, good for my career. It gave me confidence when I was sitting in the room with anyone.”
That room would soon include the governor of Pennsylvania, the mayor of Pittsburgh, and others, as Morehouse was brought in by the Penguins in 2004 to help them get a deal on construction of a new arena.
Morehouse says his Kennedy School experience, especially the negotiation classes he took, “directly helped us negotiate what many think is one of the best arena deals in the National Hockey League.” (Two trips to the Stanley Cup finals and enthusiasm around young skating phenomenon Sidney Crosby didn’t hurt.)
But Morehouse also points to HKS’s impact on his thinking about social responsibility. Consol Energy Center is at the forefront of sustainable and environmentally friendly design and is expected to become the first arena in the nation to receive LEED gold certification — a rating recognizing its green building credentials. The Penguins are also working closely with the Uptown community where the arena is being built, creating a job center, offering jobs to people from the neighborhood, and putting up money for conveniences such as a grocery store, which had long been absent from the community.
Come the fall of 2010, Morehouse will be responsible for filling those more than 18,000 shiny new seats. His marketing work has helped the franchise become one of the fastest growing team brands in sports, according to Forbes. And if the occasional neighborhood kid sneaks in, he may just have to look the other way.