Council wants details of proposed arena financing

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County Councilman Vince Gastgeb said he's seen the details of the proposed financing for a new arena in the newspaper, but it would be nice if county Chief Executive Dan Onorato would return his calls.

   
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At a council meeting yesterday, the councilman said he has tried to contact Mr. Onorato about the specifics of the financing for a new arena. Councilman Matt Drozd noted that Mr. Onorato is meeting with the governor, the mayor and the owners of the Penguins regarding a new arena, and yet, County Council doesn't know what Mr. Onorato is proposing.

County Manager Jim Flynn, who was there representing the chief executive, said the negotiations to allow the new arena to be built and keep the team in town are ongoing, so that all the specifics aren't ironed out.

After the council meeting, Mr. Flynn said the state, county and city are very close to coming up with the financing to build a new arena.

Mr. Flynn said the details of Plan B to build an arena have been in the newspaper and that Mr. Onorato has sent the same news releases to council members that he released to the media. Dennis Davin, the county's director of economic development, has also met with council members to discuss the financing for an arena.

Roughly, he said, Don Barden, the Detroit casino entrepreneur who was awarded the lone casino license for Pittsburgh, has pledged $7.5 million a year for 30 years toward construction of a new arena, the team would provide $8.5 million up front and another $2.9 million a year for as long as it takes to pay off the arena, a new state economic development fund taken from casino revenues would pay $7 million a year and another $1.1 million would come annually from naming rights for the new building. That money would all be used to pay off the $290 million, 30-year bond for the building.

Mr. Drozd, R-Ross, said he wanted to make sure the money from the state's casinos would go toward lowering property taxes.

"The governor promised us the slots money was going to alleviate the property tax rates of our constituents," he said.

Mr. Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, said he was sure that the chief executive was receiving the same sort of e-mails from county residents that he was getting: "they want to see an arena on one hand, but they don't want to use taxpayer money on the other hand."

He said with the chief executive heading into a major meeting tomorrow with all the parties on an arena, it would be good for council members to have an understanding of the deal.

Councilwoman Jan Rea agreed.

"I do think reading things in the newspaper rather than having direct information puts us in an uncomfortable position," said Ms. Rea, R-McCandless.

Mr. Gastgeb said he foresees County Council having a role in approving a future deal.

"There's a lot to look at," he said to Mr. Flynn. "If this is important, please include this council."


Correction/Clarification: (Published Jan. 4, 2007) County Manager Jim Flynn said the county, the state and the city were very close to resolving the financial issues related to building a new hockey arena. This story as originally published Jan. 3, 2007 incorrectly said they were close to a deal in negotiations with the Penguins to keep the team in the city.

Ann Belser can be reached at abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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