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Arena won't be part of Plan B

Murphy, Dawida say it's too late now to alter the strategy

Tuesday, August 11, 1998

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

City and county officials say it's too late to revise Plan B and build a new ice hockey arena for the Penguins as part of the coming expansion of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

    Related article:

Penguins treated fairly, authority chief says

"We have no plans to build a new hockey arena," Mayor Murphy said in an interview yesterday. "We cut a deal last year (for arena improvements) and believe the Penguins need to live with the commitments they made in that deal."

Boston businessman Roger Marino, co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Howard Baldwin of Los Angeles, has been holding out hope that Plan B could be revised to include a new ice hockey rink as part of the expansion of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center westward across 10th Street.

But Murphy, along with Commissioner Mike Dawida and Public Auditorium Authority board Chairman Tom McCargo, say Plan B is too far along to reopen it now and make such a costly addition.

"Plan B will continue on the track it is right now," said Dawida aide Karen Hochberg. "The Penguins were dealt with before Plan B was formulated. We wouldn't expand Plan B to include a new hockey arena."

Marino couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

Plan B is an $809 million proposal to triple the size of the convention center and build a $228 million baseball park and a $233 million football stadium.

Plan B was put together by city and county officials late last year after the Regional Renaissance Initiative, a half-cent increase in a regional sales tax, was defeated in November.

The improvements to the 37-year-old Civic Arena were approved by the RAD board in February 1997.

For Plan B, local officials have already started to assemble several pieces of property west of the convention center that will be needed for the $267 million enlargement.

Land assembly for the baseball park, at the northern end of the Sixth Street Bridge, has also begun.

In early 1997, the Auditorium Authority, a city-county agency that owns the Civic Arena, asked the Regional Asset District for $10.5 million in county sales tax revenue to make improvements at the ice rink.

They included installation of new club seats at center ice, two new lounges for club seat patrons and other improvements. The RAD, a city-county agency, administers $64 million a year in sales tax revenues.

"Roger Marino wants a second bite of the apple" but won't get it, Murphy said. "We negotiated with Howard Baldwin in good faith. (The Auditorium Authority) agreed to invest a significant amount of money last year in the Civic Arena at the request of the Penguins.

"They had the discretion on how to spend the money to increase their revenue. They put in club seats. They did a great job, from everything I can see. They signed a commitment for an extension of their lease (until 2007) based on that investment. From Baldwin's view, the Civic Arena works fine as a home for hockey."

Marino and Baldwin, who have been equal partners in the Penguins since May 1997, are currently at odds over who will control the franchise.

McCargo, who chairs the board of the city-county Auditorium Authority, was also opposed to building a new hockey facility.

"Howard Baldwin signed off (last year) on the Civic Arena improvements," McCargo said. "He said they would make it a competitive arena and they were happy with the space. The arena is a great facility. The seating capacity and the sight lines (to the ice) are good.

"Marino is just throwing mud against the wall to see what sticks, but there's no opening for a new hockey arena," McCargo said. "It's never been on the (negotiating) table."

In a related matter yesterday, arguments were heard in Common Pleas Court on a motion to dismiss a suit filed against Plan B and the Regional Asset District board by local lawyer Allen N. Brunwasser.

Brunwasser said that in his view, the 1993 state law enabling creation of the Regional Asset District didn't allow county sales-tax funds to be spent on new facilities like stadiums.

He argued that RAD money could be spent only on maintaining existing venues like Three Rivers Stadium.

RAD officials have filed preliminary objections with Judge Robert Horgos, seeking to dismiss Brunwasser's suit. Horgos could rule as early as today.

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