LEMIEUX PULLS HAT TRICK TO KEEP PENGUINS IN
PITTSBURGH
Author: Jonathan Barnes
Date: March 14,2007

PITTSBURGH — Just days after the Penguins hockey team owners
threatened to relocate the team, local and state officials and
Penguins owner Mario Lemieux announced on Tuesday that a deal has
been reached on building a new arena for the team. The deal will
keep the team in Pittsburgh for the next 30 years, officials
said.In a celebratory press conference at the Senator John Heinz
Pittsburgh Regional History Center, Gov. Ed Rendell thanked
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke
Ravenstahl and the Penguins ownership for the work in reaching the
deal.“These were difficult negotiations,” Rendell said.
“If you asked me what tipped the balance, it was the strength
and loyalty and support of the Penguins fans. Kansas City or any
city would have a hard time matching that support.”The
$290-million arena will be built across the street from Mellon
Arena, the current home of the Penguins and the oldest arena in the
National Hockey League. Gambling revenues make up the bulk of the
funding for the arena.Detroit businessman Don Barden, who recently
won a slots casino license from the state that will allow him to
build a casino on the north side of Pittsburgh, will contribute
$7.5 million a year for 30 years to finance the arena. The
gambling-financed state economic development fund also will provide
$7.5 million per year for 30 years for the arena.The deal calls for
an annual Penguins contribution toward the $290 million arena of
$4.2 million per year. About $2 million of that amount should be
recoupable through naming rights to the arena, which were given to
the Penguins. Also included in that share is $400,000 a year from a
parking surcharge once the arena is opened, and $200,000 a year
from parking after Mellon Arena is demolished.The
Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority, which
will own the arena, will pay the Penguins $8.5 million for the
team-owned old St. Francis Central Hospital, which is in the
footprint of the new arena. The team will be responsible for the
maintenance, operation and management of the new arena and will
keep all revenues generated by it.Pittsburgh leaders said the two
sides had the same plan from the start of negotiations.“We
shared the same goal as the Penguins’ ownership – to
keep the team here, playing in Pittsburgh for at least the next 30
years,” said Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.
“Our new, multi-purpose facility will host NHL hockey and
also serve as an entertainment centerpiece and economic generator
for our entire region.”Onorato said that a $15 million credit
would be given to the Penguins to help the team to buy and develop
28 acres surrounding the new arena. He also noted that a labor
stabilization agreement reached with local trade unions would allow
the arena work to move forward without disruptions to the
project’s budget.Pittsburgh’s mayor echoed
Onorato’s enthusiasm for the arena deal.“This is
another great step forward for the City of Pittsburgh and our
region,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. “We all worked
very hard to ensure that the Penguins would stay here in Pittsburgh
and to provide a new 21st century entertainment center for our city
without using local taxpayer dollars.”Lemieux said the
process of getting an arena deal has been a very long one.
“I’m glad that I’m here today to announce that we
do have a deal to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh for the next 30
years,” he said.National Hockey League commissioner Gary
Bettman, who had of late been brought into the arena negotiations,
said the reason the deal came together is because local and state
officials “stuck to the fundamental principles of their
constituencies.” He also credited Lemieux with doing what was
necessary to seal the deal.“Mario has made save after save
after save,” Bettman said, turning to the Penguins owner and
former star player. “You are nothing short of phenomenal on
and off the ice.” — Jonathan BarnesInterviewed for this
story: Ed Rendell, (717) 783-1116; Dan Onorato, (412) 350-6500;
Luke Ravenstahl, (412) 255-2142; Mario Lemieux, (412) 393-0200;
Gary Bettman, (212) 789-2000