Onorato buoyed by NHL head's Penguins' comments

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Given statements made yesterday by National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato is confident about the Penguins' chances of staying in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Onorato said today there is no reason for the team to leave, given that local and state leaders have crafted a plan to fund a new arena and have already assembled the land for the facility.

"I think it's good news that the commissioner of the NHL is saying that Pittsburgh is a good market and that he's optimistic that the new ownership will keep the team in Pittsburgh," he said. "If you take him at his word, there's no reason that the Penguins won't stay here. There will be a new building."

During a teleconference yesterday, Mr. Bettman expressed optimism that the team will get an owner interested in keeping the team in town, but added that local political leaders must come through with a new arena. He said the only thing that could drive hockey out of Pittsburgh would be government's inability to provide an arena.

Mr. Onorato said the city and county are well on their way to meeting that goal. The city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority has assembled land in the lower Hill and Uptown area, with the help of a $26.5 million advance from the state, and plans to begin demolition in January. He also said local leaders have funding plans in place for construction, primarily using anticipated slot machine revenues.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., one of three bidders for the Pittsburgh slot machine casino, has pledged $290 million toward the arena if it wins the competition. Gov. Ed Rendell also has crafted an alternative, known as Plan B, in case Isle of Capri doesn't get the state license. It relies on $7.5 million a year for 30 years from the other two other Pittsburgh bidders, Forest City Enterprises or PITG Gaming Inc., if one or the other gets the license, plus $7 million a year for 30 years from a slots-related economic development fund, and $4 million a year from the team.


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