Smizik: Pittsburgh still great with or without the Penguins
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By most indications, the Penguins soon will come to an agreement with the various governmental bodies with which they are negotiating for a new arena, and that will keep them in Pittsburgh for some 30 years, if not longer. Leverage is with the Penguins, and, although they're not likely to make Gov. Ed Rendell, who is brokering the deal, buckle, they'll get more concessions than first believed.
It looks like there will be a happy ending to what has been a long and sometimes ugly struggle. When Mario Lemieux bought the team in 1999, he made it clear that a new arena was vital to the franchise remaining in Pittsburgh.
This is a point about which the MFOM (Media Friends of Mario) never fail to remind us. Their wail is this: "He's been waiting since 1999.''
They say this almost as though 9/11 never happened and the world did not radically change on that day. There was a long period after Sept. 11, 2001, when building any kind of sports facility was out of the question.
This is not to excuse the public officials. They have been slow to react to the need of a new arena, but that's almost always the case when sports facilities are built. It's not exactly a badge of dishonor for politicians to move slowly in dispatching public money for private interests.
The failure of the Isle of Capri, which had promised to put $290 million toward a new arena, to win the slots license was a crushing blow to the MFOM. Since many of them had been boldly stating the fix was in, and that the politically connected Forest City group would win the license for Station Square, they looked rather foolish when it was awarded to the least politically connected of the three applicants, PITG Gaming.
Incredibly, the MFOM continued to say the fix was in. If that is the case, please name which public officials were bribed and who bribed them so we can get on with prosecutions. Otherwise, shut up!
Another favorite ploy of the MFOM was the way they portrayed Pittsburgh, without the Penguins. It would be Green Bay or Syracuse, they bellowed, not the least bit ashamed of their lack of logic. They were scaremongers, desperate to do anything to make sure Lemieux got his best deal.
As stated, the Penguins likely will not leave Pittsburgh. If they do, it will be a sad day. But Pittsburgh would not become a Green Bay or a Syracuse. It would remain Pittsburgh, a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family. Anyone who judges a region by the number of its professional sports franchises has a distinctly warped view of life.
Los Angeles, for example, has really gone downhill without a National Football League franchise, hasn't it?
Poor Charlotte, N.C., it will never grow and attract people with only two pro sports franchises, will it?
Life did not exactly come to a standstill in this town when the National Hockey League shut down for the 2004-05 season, did it?
If the Penguins left, there still would be two professional sports franchises in town and they are in the two most popular leagues -- the NFL and Major League Baseball. That not exactly Syracuse and Green Bay.
Two is good, but three is better. And Pittsburgh will have three major sports franchises if the Penguins leave. The University of Pittsburgh might not fall under the category of professional, but it is a major sports franchise. The Pitt football and basketball teams are every bit as important to this town as the Penguins. They attract as much attention and drive similar revenue.
It's hard to figure the exact amount of revenue that would be lost if the Penguins left town, but it's not nearly as much as the MFOM would have us believe. If the Penguins sold out every game, their attendance would be close to 700,000. At roughly $50 a ticket, that's a lot of money -- about $35 million. But if the Penguins leave, it's not like the people spending that money are going to bury it in their back yard. They're going to spend it somewhere else.
There would be a shortfall in terms of revenue from the parking tax and the amusement tax, and that would hurt. But, if the Penguins leave, the NHL would not let the new arena remain vacant for long. Pittsburgh would be a prime candidate for an expansion team or as the new home for some of the league's struggling franchises.
That would not be the same, in the short term, as having the Penguins and the great promise this team has. But it would go a long way toward alleviating the shortfall on the taxes.
Here's hoping the Penguins stay, and they almost surely will. But, if they leave, life will go on and go on quite well.
First Published January 28, 2007 12:00 am