Hockey town: In Pittsburgh, the league already has a winner
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This week has turned into more of a nail-biter for the Pittsburgh Penguins than originally thought.
Everyone knew, of course, that tomorrow was the long-awaited day of decision by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on which of three applicants should be awarded a casino license. The big hope in the Pens' front office -- and, it's safe to say, among most of its fans -- is that the approval go to the Isle of Capri, the bidder that has promised $290 million for construction of a new public arena.
The Post-Gazette, not to mention the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force, has regarded the Isle of Capri bid for a casino in Uptown as the strongest for the city -- not due to the arena factor but because of the total proposal, which also includes a redevelopment plan for the lower Hill District, a record of successful operation elsewhere, a responsible traffic plan and good aesthetics.
Regardless of tomorrow's outcome, the hockey team's future is suddenly more complicated now that Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has decided to withdraw his purchase bid at the last minute. If there's a silver lining to this, it's that the National Hockey League apparently wanted the new owner to keep the team in Pittsburgh regardless of the arena situation.
It's no wonder. Pittsburgh is a premier hockey market, as its loyal fans can attest year after year despite losing seasons and the league's oldest arena. With the makings of a new championship team, the Penguins' young stars promise to enthrall another generation of Pittsburgh hockey fans.
A slots license for the Isle of Capri will put that new arena on a fast track and cement the team's fortunes here, regardless of who bids for ownership next. But even if a different applicant gets the casino and the arena has to be built under Gov. Ed Rendell's Plan B, which will require investment by the team, it would be folly for the new owner, whoever it is, to forsake this proven market for a speculative location.
Pittsburgh is a hotbed of hockey that is bound to get only hotter.
First Published December 19, 2006 12:00 am