Incoming Penguins owner touts Isle of Capri plan

Plan B too conceptual, Balsillie testifies

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HARRISBURG -- The Penguins' future in Pittsburgh does not depend on Isle of Capri winning the single stand-alone casino license set aside for the city, although it would help, prospective Penguins owner Jim Balsillie told gaming officials yesterday.

The team needs a new arena if it is to stay in Pittsburgh, but Isle of Capri isn't the only one that can provide it, Mr. Balsillie said in response to questions from the state Gaming Control Board in Harrisburg.

It was his second time testifying before the board, which is expected to award the license Wednesday, along with 10 other licenses for racetrack and stand-alone casinos in other parts of the state.

Competitors for Pittsburgh's license are Isle of Capri Casino Inc.; Forest City Enterprises, which wants to build a casino at Station Square; and PITG Gaming LLC, which wants to build one near Heinz Field.

Mr. Balsillie is rooting for Isle of Capri's proposal because it includes a promise to build a $290 million hockey arena at minimal cost to the Penguins or the public.

An alternative arena-funding plan being floated by Gov. Ed Rendell and Pittsburgh city officials would require the Penguins to contribute $8.5 million up front and $4 million a year for 30 years toward the construction. The exact terms of the proposal, dubbed Plan B, would be subject to negotiation with the winning casino bidder, which also would contribute to the project.

Plan B is too conceptual, Mr. Balsillie said. Details have not been worked out or committed to, he said.

"There's a fair bit of difference between a concept and a signed contract," he said.

"There's no wiggle room [in the Isle of Capri's contract with the Penguins]. That's the beauty of the plan: The team is there for sure and the arena is there for sure," he said. "Everything is for sure."

That's one reason Crawford Square resident DeWitt Walton likes Isle of Capri's proposal.

"The gaming board needs to look at the package in its totality, not just at gaming, but at economic development in the largest possible way," said Mr. Walton, who traveled to Harrisburg yesterday to observe the hearing.

"Plan B? There is no Plan B. There's no contract or guarantee that it will happen," he said. "Isle of Capri has an ironclad contract with our community."

That's no comfort to other residents of the Hill District, who say a casino will bring traffic, noise, crime and gambling addiction to the neighborhood.

Effect on the community is one factor the gaming board is required to consider in awarding the licenses. Other factors include economic impact, financial strength and business experience.

Board members yesterday gave no indication of how Mr. Balsillie's testimony would affect their decision.

The Penguins' Mellon Arena lease expires at the end of June and the team is then free to relocate to another city.


Tracie Mauriello can be reached at tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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