Penguins focus on sale to one of four entities

New letter of intent due soon

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The Penguins are moving forward in their search for a buyer for the team and could be close to signing a new letter of intent, several sources close to the sales process said yesterday.

The hockey team, owned in part by Hall of Fame player Mario Lemieux, appears to be focused on one of four entities -- Sam Fingold, a Hartford real-estate developer who signed a letter of intent for exclusive negotiating rights in late July but has not been able to reach a purchase agreement; finalist bidders Andrew Murstein and Jim Renacci, or the secretive Canadian person or group that was close to signing a letter of intent in mid-July.

At least one of those entities has been closely reviewing the organization's operations.

It's believed Lawrence Gottesdiener, another Hartford real-estate developer who was a finalist bidder in July, has fallen out of the picture.

Fingold's bid was about $175 million, similar to the earlier one made by the Canadian bidder. Murstein, a New York business owner, and Renacci, an Ohio businessman and Ringgold High School graduate, came in at lower numbers.

The Canadian entity has been linked by Canadian newspapers to Jim Balsillie, chairman of Ontario-based Research in Motion, the firm that makes wireless BlackBerry devices. Balsillie told a woman who answered the phone at his home that he did not want to comment.

In July, the Canadian bidder backed out of signing a letter of intent at the last moment because it became clear the Penguins could not freely be moved to another city. That bidder apparently was eyeing Hamilton, Ontario.

Any sale has to be approved by the NHL, which might be reluctant to green-light anyone intent on moving the club. Under Bylaw 36, the league can block a transfer as long as there is a viable plan to replace obsolete Mellon Arena.

The Penguins have a partnership with gaming company Isle of Capri Casinos, which has promised to donate $290 million toward a new facility if it gets the city's slots license to be awarded later this year.

If one of the other two finalists for the slots license -- Forest City/Harrah's and PITG Gaming -- prevails, state and local officials have proposed a "Plan B" for arena funding that relies on gaming money, state money and contributions from the Penguins.


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


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