After a phone call Tuesday night with Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle, Gov. Ed Rendell expressed renewed confidence yesterday about reaching an arena deal that will keep the team in Pittsburgh.
Gov. Ed Rendell comments on ongoing talks with the Pittsburgh Penguins:
Still hopeful for a deal
The NHL's position
A joint venture between casino operator Don Barden and the Penguins
The importance of a professional sports team
Finding a fiscal balance
Ron Burkle -- the businessman
A day after threatening to take his case directly to the National Hockey League if the Penguins try to relocate, Mr. Rendell disclosed that he had talked to Mr. Burkle about "some issues that need to be narrowed a little bit and we both agreed to work on them."
He said Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl also had talked to Mr. Burkle this week.
"We're all optimistic that we can reach an agreement," the governor said.
Mr. Rendell said he expects to talk to Mr. Burkle by phone again early next week, although no formal negotiating session has been scheduled. However, Mr. Ravenstahl said one could occur before the end of next week.
"I'm sure at some point next week you will hear from us as we continue to move forward, whether that's another formal meeting, or a decision one way or the other," the mayor said.
A meeting would be the first since talks broke off without an agreement one week ago. Penguins officials left upset over a city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority proposal to share development rights and parking revenues with Pittsburgh casino winner Don Barden.
While team officials haggle over details of an arena deal here, it doesn't appear that they will visit Houston this week while in Dallas for the NHL All-Star Game. There had been speculation they would travel to Houston, which is seeking a pro hockey team.
Representatives of Houston Mayor Bill White and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority said they were not aware of any plans for a site visit.
Mayoral spokesman Frank Michel said the Penguins called earlier in the week and asked if Houston wanted to be on a short list of cities for the team if negotiations fell through in Pittsburgh. The city replied yes.
"That really was the extent of it," he said. "We understand there are negotiations going on [in Pittsburgh] and we also understand that the Penguins' intent is to try to stay there."
The Penguins' Mellon Arena lease expires at the end of June, leaving the team free to move. The team has talked to Kansas City about playing in the new $276 million Sprint Center next season.
The talk with Mr. Burkle came after days of heated rhetoric. Mr. Rendell said Tuesday he was so confident of the deal on the table that he would ask the NHL board of governors to block a move by the team.
He said the deal is better than those given to other professional sports teams in Pennsylvania and that Penguins' share would be a "fraction" of the $2.9 million a year the Pirates put into their deal under a "measurably sweetened" Plan B. The funding plan originally called for the Penguins to put in $4 million a year for 30 years toward construction, including $1.16 million annually in naming rights.
Mr. Barden is contributing $7.5 million a year for 30 years toward construction. Another $7 million a year would come from a slots-backed state economic development fund.
The governor said yesterday state and local officials "can still tweak [Plan B] a little bit." He described his conversation with Mr. Burkle, a friend and supporter, as "friendly."
"Look, Mr. Burkle is a great businessman. You don't accumulate the type of resources that he accumulated without being a smart businessman. He's trying to get every advantage ... We want to make sure the resources we devote to this are appropriate, not too much and not too little," he said.
Besides being upset over sharing development rights and parking revenue, the Penguins don't like a proposal to pay more than $2 million a year in rent at the new arena. They could get Mellon Arena rent free under a lease extension available next year.
According to the governor, the team also wants the state, city and county to "make up" a $10 million payment it owes losing casino bidder Isle of Capri if it gets a new arena in Pittsburgh. Mr. Rendell said yesterday "that's something we can't do anything about."
Staff writer Rich Lord contributed. Mark Belko can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1262.