Tulsa joins growing list of suitors for Penguins

Minor league hockey team owner in Oklahoma hopes to lure Penguins with 18,000-seat arena

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As state and local officials try to complete a deal to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh, another city could be in the hunt for the team if those efforts fail.

Bob Funk, president and chief executive officer of Express Personnel Services Inc., told a Tulsa, Okla., newspaper that he has an interest in bringing the Penguins to that city if a deal falls through in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Funk, owner of the Oklahoma City Blazers hockey team, previously was part of a business group looking to invite the Penguins to Oklahoma City to play in the Ford Center. That invitation never materialized.

In Tulsa, the 18,000-seat BOK Center currently is under construction, with a scheduled opening in 2008.

According to the Tulsa World newspaper, Mr. Funk said he has formulated a plan to try to bring the Penguins to that city. He said he hoped to talk to Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux about a possible relocation.

Mr. Funk could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Tulsa is just one of several cities that could be in the running for the team if local efforts fail. Kansas City, with the $276 million Sprint Center getting ready to open this fall, is the presumed frontrunner should the team leave Pittsburgh. Officials there have offered the team a free arena, no construction costs, and half the building revenues.

Houston also has an interest in the team. While Oklahoma City did not extend an invitation to the Penguins, there may still be interest in bringing the franchise there.

The Penguins declined comment yesterday.

As cities line up to try to lure the team away, the team continues to talk to Gov. Ed Rendell, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato about reaching an agreement that would keep the franchise in Pittsburgh.

While public officials continue to express confidence about completing a deal, no formal negotiations have been scheduled, although the two sides are exchanging information and proposals.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the parties could talk on a conference call later this week, but he added nothing has been scheduled yet.

"They're having conversations. I have not heard about any blowups so I guess that's a good thing," said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, a board member for the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which is involved in the negotiations.

"Everything seems to be positive. There's been no negative conversations or statements by anybody, which I think is a positive sign. Some agreement could be reached any day now."

The state and local politicians are hoping to complete a deal under Plan B, a funding formula that includes $14.5 million a year for 30 years in slots gambling-related revenues, plus an annual contribution from the Penguins. Mr. Rendell has said the team contribution is now a "fraction" of the $2.9 million a year the Pirates pledged toward PNC Park.

In his interview with Tulsa World Sports Columnist Glenn Hibdon, Mr. Funk said three or four other franchises could be interested in relocating to the BOK Center, but that he had his sights set on the Penguins.

"Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby, the brightest young star in the NHL in many years," he said. "They have great young players and they should be a strong team for many years to come."

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


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