Barden, Bluhm reach agreement on casino financing

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The ink is still wet, but after months of searching for a solution to his money woes, Detroit businessman Don Barden this morning finally and formally struck a deal with his newest financing partner, Walton Street Capital, an agreement that should allow for construction to continue on the North Shore casino.

The agreement still needs blessings from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and from the banks, which will provide the financing not offered up front by Mr. Barden, Neil Bluhm's Walton Street and their new joint venture, Pittsburgh Gaming Holdings L.P.

In a statement released this morning, Pittsburgh Gaming Holdings said that it had signed an agreement "with PITG Gaming, LLC to purchase preferred equity and 75 percent of the common equity in the Pittsburgh casino. Pittsburgh Gaming Holdings is a joint venture between, High Pitt Gaming LLC and Don Barden."

In the same statement, Greg Carlin, the new CEO of Pittsburgh Gaming, said "We have been working around the clock to reach an agreement that will allow us to quickly resume construction of the project and start generating tax revenue for the city of Pittsburgh and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

"It was important to us that we keep the commitments made during the application process and that the amphitheater and other exterior amenities that made the Majestic Star the best applicant in Pittsburgh will be built -- in full and on schedule."

The company says the casino is still on track to open in June 2009.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he had a "relatively positive" phone conversation this afternoon with Mr. Bluhm and others from Chicago-based Walton Street Capitol, in which the firm agreed to meet all of the pledges made by Mr. Barden.

He said Mr. Bluhm and Mr. Carlin specifically agreed to the arena funding, casino design features, aid to the North Side and Hill District, and other pledges that had helped Mr. Barden win the lone slots license allocated to Pittsburgh. He said Mr. Barden was not on the call.

"I left the conversation enthused that they agreed to keep to all of the commitments," he said. He said he would now press the Gaming Control Board -- possibly through public testimony at any upcoming public hearing or meeting -- to ensure that the commitments are ironclad.

He said he'll "see how the state reacts to the latest news" that Walton Street and Mr. Barden have inked a deal, before deciding whether to endorse a transfer of the license, or back some other process.

More details in tomorrow's Pitsburgh Post-Gazette.


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