Penguins town: A hard-bargained deal is a winner for Pittsburgh

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All things considered, it took less time and anguish to wrap up the Plan B for a new Pittsburgh arena than the Plan B that built two stadiums and a convention center.

Chalk it up to the negotiating parties, both public and private, who knew that walking away from this would leave both sides diminished and that all the elements of a deal were present if only cooler heads could work out the details.

In the end, thank goodness, they did. Now Pittsburgh is the winner, with a new $290 million public arena on the way and the preservation of a popular sports franchise. The Penguins win, too, with a 30-year pact on a new facility that will support their bottom line and the retention of a passionate fan base in their city of origin.

Credit goes to Gov. Ed Rendell, who led the delegation of public officials in crafting the deal. He said yesterday that, were it not for the legalization of slots casinos in Pennsylvania, the Penguins would have left Pittsburgh. He's probably right, because it's hard to see where $15 million a year in public funds would have been found to help build the facility. The governor's hatching of Plan B, a fallback funding formula, assured that, regardless of who won the Pittsburgh casino license, gambling proceeds would cover the bulk of construction. As it stands, casino operator Don Barden will contribute $7.5 million a year toward building the arena, matched by $7.5 million from a gambling-generated development fund.

Mr. Rendell's partners in the talks were Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who may not have brought funding to the table but maintained a unified front with the governor in representing the public interest and keeping pressure on for an agreement.

Credit also goes to Penguins' co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle and National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, who bargained hard for their business but also had the sense to see what a good deal they had in Pittsburgh -- in fans, in funds and in overall community allegiance. The team will pay $2.2 million a year toward construction, along with additional money from naming rights.

One doesn't have to follow hockey or the Penguins to see the value for Pittsburgh in the arena compact. Besides saving a sports franchise and its associated spinoffs, the deal will replace an aging and costly entertainment venue without burdening local taxpayers. Since the new arena will sit along Fifth Avenue, the deal will open for development, with incentives, a prime piece of real estate between Downtown and the Hill District.

This is the kind of deal that will make winners all around. Good work by those who refused to stop talking till the job was done.


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