500 show support for Penguins' new arena-casino proposal

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It was no idle threat from Andrea Harris to Gov. Ed Rendell.

Ms. Harris, 17, of Carmichaels, Greene County, was holding a sign that read, "Rendell ... No Arena, No Vote!"

Tony Tye, Post-GazetteSara Harper, 15, front left, and Kaitlyn Lee, 16, front right, both of the North Side, rally outside the Mellon Arena in support of the Penguins and the Isle of Capri's plan to build a casino and a new arena close to the existing arena.

She turns 18 before the next gubernatorial election.

Ms. Harris was one of about 500 people who showed up at the Mellon Arena more than an hour before the Penguins-Islanders game yesterday to show their support for a proposal by Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. and the Penguins to build a casino near the arena. Isle of Capri is also pledging to include $290 million for a new arena.

Fans were standing in the rain shouting "Save our Pens" as speaker after speaker stepped to the microphone.

"Let's do this loud enough for Rendell to hear all the way in Detroit, because we're paying for his tickets, right?" shouted Penguins radio broadcaster and former team member Phil Bourque before leading the crowd in another cheer of "Let's go Pens."

The crowd ranged from teenagers who play high school hockey to adults to babies who may one day play hockey.

"If the Pens leave, so do I," read the sign held by Darin Lesefka, 40, of McCandless. Mr. Lesefka, a helicopter pilot for STAT MedEvac, still plays hockey in pickup games when he can. He will be leaving in three months to serve in Iraq but said if the team isn't here when he gets back, he'll move to Arizona or somewhere else where they appreciate the sport.

Mr. Bourque and other former Penguins, who refer to themselves as team alumni, lined up on stage with politicians and fans who have become active in keeping the team in Pittsburgh.

One team alumnus who did not attend was Mario Lemieux, the current owner, who was in town.

Mike Mooney, 35, of Whitehall, who helped organize the rally and is one of the creators of the www.slotsformario.com Web site, put a good spin on Mr. Lemieux's absence.

Mr. Mooney said the purpose of the rally was to focus on keeping the team in Pittsburgh.

"It's nice to have him around, but it might have taken away from the issue," he said.

State Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, state Rep. Frank LaGrotta, D-Ellwood City, and city Councilman William Peduto all said keeping the team in the city was vital to the region.

Ms. Orie said she has received more than 2,000 e-mails, phone calls and letters supporting the Isle of Capri's application for a slots license.

"This is bad urban development," Mr. Peduto said, pointing to the Mellon Arena. "We have a chance to change it. This is going to reconnect the Hill District to Downtown. For every reason, this is the right thing."

Correction/Clarification: (Published Feb. 8, 2006) This Feb. 5, 2006 article about a rally to support the proposal for a slot machine license for Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. incorrectly reported that Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux was in Detroit for the Super Bowl. In fact, Mr. Lemieux was in the Pittsburgh area.

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


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