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Gov. Rendell says he will try to talk to NHL on arena
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Gov. Ed Rendell may try to go directly to the National Hockey League to discuss ways to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

Direct talks with the NHL is an option the governor is "strongly considering," said Kate Philips, Mr. Rendell's spokeswoman.

Mr. Rendell may turn to the NHL because the Penguins have refused to discuss with state and local officials an alternative plan for funding a new arena. Team officials said they are barred from doing so because of their agreement with Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., which is pledging $290 million toward an arena in its bid to win the Pittsburgh slot machine license.

The team's stance has frustrated Mr. Rendell, Mayor Bob O'Connor, and county Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who are trying to put together an alternate plan that likely would involve taxpayer funding and private funding from the Penguins.

Ms. Philips said the governor's main concern is keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

"If that means dealing directly with the NHL, going to New York and talking to them, that's something he's willing to do," she said.

The urgency in part is dictated by the timetable for the award of the Pittsburgh slots license. That is not expected until late this year or early next year. However, the Penguins can begin shopping the team to other cities this summer. They are free to leave after their lease expires in July 2007.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an interview last week that the arena issue needs to be resolved quickly or the Penguins would look at other options, one of which likely would be moving the team. He said the issue needs to be settled in the next couple months.

State and local politicians are trying to come up with an alternate plan in the event that Isle of Capri does not win the slots license. Isle of Capri is facing competition from Forest City Enterprises and Detroit businessman Don Barden.

David Morehouse, a consultant for the Penguins, said Mr. Rendell is "free to talk to whoever he wants to talk to."

But, he added, "Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, has already stated publicly that he thinks the Isle of Capri plan to provide full funding for a new arena is the best way to finance a new arena for the city of Pittsburgh and he's already publicly encouraged the governor and local elected leaders to get on board to support his plan."

First published on February 23, 2006 at 12:00 am
Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.