Bettman believes Penguins will stay, new arena a must
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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday expressed optimism that the Penguins will get a new owner who will keep the team in Pittsburgh, and he put the onus on government officials to make sure the city gets a new arena.
"I anticipate that there will be new ownership, and I am anticipating and certainly extremely hopeful that a new building will be built in Pittsburgh because we all know the Penguins have to have a new building," Bettman said during a preseason teleconference.
"With new owners and with a new building, my belief is that the future of the Penguins in Pittsburgh is both warm and bright. We don't want to see that team move."
Later in the teleconference, Bettman referred to Pittsburgh as a "hockey hotbed" and challenged government leaders.
"The only thing that would drive us out of town would be the inability of those in charge -- government entities -- to provide a new building as they provided with the Steelers and Pirates."
The Pirates and Steelers moved into new North Shore facilities that replaced Three Rivers Stadium earlier this decade. PNC Park and Heinz Field were partly publicly funded.
The Penguins, owned in part by Hall of Fame player Mario Lemieux, have been for sale since early this year, but that process has slowed.
Hartford real-estate developer Sam Fingold signed a letter of intent in late July but was not able to reach a purchase agreement.
More recently, Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie emerged as a top candidate to buy the team and could be getting closer to reaching a deal.
It's believed that earlier bidders Fingold, Andrew Murstein, who is a New York businessman, and Ohio businessman Jim Renacci remain interested.
The slots license issue is tied closely to plans for a new building to replace Mellon Arena.
The Penguins have an agreement with gaming company Isle of Capri, which will donate $290 million toward construction of a new arena if it gets the city's slots license.
State and local officials have a Plan B proposal for arena funding if either Forest City/Harrah's or PITG Gaming, the other two finalists, are awarded the slots license.
That calls for a mix of funds from the winning slots company, the Penguins and the state by way of slots money.
Bettman said that other than the arena issue, the Penguins are a good fit in Pittsburgh.
"The team has a good local television arrangement with Fox Sports regional," he said. "The fans over an extended period of time have demonstrated their great interest in and support of NHL hockey. This is team that has a great history and tradition. They've got a good organization running the club."
"With new owners and with a new building, my belief is that the future of the Penguins in Pittsburgh is both warm and bright."
First Published October 4, 2006 12:00 am