Sports and Exhibition board making way for new arena

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With the casino license awarded, the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority stepped up work toward the construction of a new arena yesterday, even as the Penguins' future in Pittsburgh remained uncertain.

The authority board authorized $1.7 million in contracts to clear asbestos from buildings to be demolished to make way for a new arena and to prevent work stoppages during construction.

The authority hopes to begin asbestos abatement on the former St. Francis Central Hospital and 12 other buildings in the Fifth and Centre avenue corridors by early January, Executive Director Mary Conturo said.

It plans to start demolishing buildings a month later, with the construction of the new arena scheduled to start in September. The goal is to have the building finished by fall 2009, the same timetable advanced by the Penguins. Money for the site work and demolition is coming through a $26.5 million advance from the state.

The sports authority intends to finance the construction through the Gov. Ed Rendell-crafted Plan B. It calls for $7.5 million a year for 30 years to come from winning casino bidder PITG Gaming LLC headed by businessman Don Barden, $7 million a year for 30 years from a slots-backed state economic development fund, and $4 million a year from the Penguins, plus $8.5 million up front.

Plan B is contingent on getting an agreement with the team, whose Mellon Arena lease expires at the end of June. The Penguins have not endorsed Plan B and pinned their hopes for a new arena on Isle of Capri winning the city slots license. The Isle had pledged $290 million toward construction.

With Isle of Capri's loss, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said yesterday the team would begin discussions with other cities about relocating. However, he added he planned to begin discussions soon with leaders about a "viable Pittsburgh arena plan."

The sports authority still must acquire St. Francis Central Hospital from the Penguins, who acquired it for $8 million with an eye toward using it for an arena.

The authority board also took several steps yesterday toward a no-strike agreement for arena construction. Those actions included the hiring of Hill International Inc., which also worked on no-strike agreements for the construction of PNC Park, Heinz Field and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Other than the hospital, the sports authority has acquired all of the property it needs for the arena. The new facility would be built between Fifth and Centre avenues, across the street from Mellon Arena.

The two largest contracts awarded yesterday, for asbestos removal, went to Abmech for $1.5 million and Precision Environmental for $148,800.

In a separate action yesterday, the board approved a 2007 budget of $12.6 million. It includes a onetime allocation of $2 million from the Allegheny Regional Asset District to help cover a convention center deficit. In future years, the deficit is expected to be covered by slots revenue.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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