Kansas City officials, eager to find an anchor tenant for a new arena, will get their first opportunity to lure the Penguins there today.
Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, who lead the franchise's ownership group, and other members of the team's front office accepted an invitation to travel to Kansas City and meet with representatives of the city and the Sprint Center, a $276 million multipurpose venue scheduled to open this fall.
The Penguins' lease at Mellon Arena expires in June, and they have attracted expressions of interest from cities across North America that are in the market for a National Hockey League franchise. This will be the first meeting between Penguins executives and people from one of those cities.
It is not known if the team has been contacted by representatives of anyplace except Kansas City, but when Mr. Lemieux announced last month that the franchise no longer was for sale, he made it clear that ownership was prepared to entertain arena proposals from any city seeking an NHL club.
That sentiment was reinforced in a letter he and Mr. Burkle sent to Gov. Ed Rendell, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl last week.
In that letter, they agreed to meet with those elected officials tomorrow to discuss what is popularly known as "Plan B," a proposal the public officials are formulating to finance construction of an arena here. But they reiterated that "we are in the process of exploring all of our options."
Although no formal deadline for determining where the Penguins will be based next season has been established, the Penguins' letter conveyed the importance of having the matter resolved in the relatively near future.
The urgency is based, in part, on the NHL needing to know where the team will play so that work can begin on its schedule for the 2007-08 season. Also, the Penguins would need considerable time before next season to handle business-related issues such as selling tickets and arranging corporate sponsorships, particularly if they are operating in a new market.
"We appreciate the positive tone of your recent public comments and look forward to seeing what has been described as a plan that is significantly better than the original 'Plan B,' " the letter said.
"It is essential for the future of this franchise that we negotiate an arena deal that makes economic sense for the long term. Please be advised that time is of the essence. We must have something in place well in advance of the March 31 deadline mentioned in your letter [proposing Thursday's meeting]."
Neither Mr. Lemieux nor Kansas City officials could be reached for comment last night.
While groups in cities like Houston and Las Vegas are purported to be shopping for an NHL team, Kansas City has been at the forefront of those hoping to attract one.
All 72 luxury suites at the Sprint Center have been sold, and California venture capitalist William "Boots" Del Biaggio III, who nearly purchased the Penguins in 2005, has an agreement in place to base a franchise there if he is able to acquire one.
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@yahoo.com .