Is Penguins suitor looking for cash?

Could jeopardize developer's bid for hockey team

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Sticking points, including financing problems, appear to be jeopardizing Sam Fingold's attempt to buy the Penguins, and his letter of intent might expire in the next several days, sources close to the sales process said yesterday.

Mr. Fingold, a Toronto native and Hartford, Conn., real estate developer, entered into the agreement July 28 for exclusive rights to negotiate a purchase agreement with the team. His offer is believed to be $175 million.

One source said the two sides disagree about fundamental business points but would not elaborate.

Although no timetable was announced, it's believed there was a soft deadline of 30 days and that talks could continue beyond that if both sides felt there was progress. The 30-day period ended over the weekend, and it appears the Penguins are the ones ready to pull out of negotiations.

It's unclear what the Penguins' next move would be if Mr. Fingold's letter of intent lapses.

The club, which is owned in part by Hall of Fame player Mario Lemieux, had hoped to have a deal in place by the start of the season, but that is now about five weeks away. Once there is a purchase agreement, a prospective owner needs NHL approval before the sale can be completed.

The team could revisit offers from three other finalists from the bidding process.

They are:

Lawrence Gottesdiener, another Hartford real estate developer, whose bid was believed to be closest to Mr. Fingold's;

Andrew Murstein, a New York businessman whose partners include Mark Cuban, Dan Marino and others with local ties and whose bid was believed to be about $170 million;

Jim Renacci, a Ringgold High School graduate and Ohio businessman who apparently offered something closer to $150 million.

Precedent suggests Mr. Fingold -- who is partnered with his brother, Michael, father, David, and world-famous concert promoter Michael Cohl, all of Toronto -- could regroup even if this effort fails.

Dave Checketts entered into a letter of intent with the St. Louis Blues last September, but that lapsed without a purchase agreement. Another prospective buyer, Allen Appleby, signed a letter of intent in January but also couldn't strike a deal.

Mr. Checketts eventually resurfaced and bought the Blues, along with their lease at Savvis Center, for $150 million in a deal that closed earlier this summer.

If Mr. Fingold can't reach a purchase agreement, it would be the second time since the team was put up for sale early this year that the Penguins will have been close to having a buyer. A secretive group from Canada was on the verge of signing a letter of intent in mid-July but backed out after realizing it could have a difficult time moving the club.

Although he has ties with a group hoping to bring an NHL team to Kansas City, Mr. Fingold said when he signed the letter of intent the he would try to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The team needs a new arena to be viable. There are two proposed plans for a new arena, one connected directly to a slots machine license and another proposed alternative funding plan that requires contributions the team and other entities.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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