Lemieux disappointed by Pittsburgh offer; clock ticking

Updated: January 23, 2007, 8:00 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said Monday he was not happy with what state and local officials offered the team last week in an effort to finance a new arena for the team and keep it from moving, possibly to Kansas City, Mo.

Lemieux, speaking at pre-game festivities for the NHL All-Star Game in Dallas, said the team was "disappointed" and that it needs to act quickly to make a decision on where it will play next season.

"I wasn't [at that meeting Thursday], but we were very disappointed," Lemieux said. "As always, we're going to go out and explore our options. When we get a deal that we like, we'll sign it."

City and state officials say they've offered the Penguins a sweet deal, but they might not have a lot of time to make additional offers: Monday, Lemieux hinted the team can't wait long to make a decision about next year. Kansas City has offered the Penguins free rent and revenue sharing.

"The sooner, the better, not only for us, but for the league," Lemieux said Monday. "They need to know where this team is going to play next year.

"A few weeks ago, I said 30 days. I think we're getting close to that. Sooner or later, we're just going to make a decision and go with that," he said.

A National Hockey League executive agreed with Lemieux that time is a factor.

"Obviously, from what I understand, they had a tough meeting last week, and we've talked about a short horizon and we need to get a resolution soon," deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Tribune-Review. "Hopefully, that creates emergency and they'll make some progress toward getting resolution."

Lawmakers on the Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority board told area media outlets that the Penguins are unhappy with the prospect of sharing redevelopment of the Mellon Arena site with casino developer Don Barden, who beat out the Penguins' preferred suitor, Isle of Capri, for a slot machine license in Pittsburgh last month.

Isle of Capri had pledged to build an arena for the Penguins at no cost to the team, and Lemieux took the team off the market and announced it was considering its options for 2007-08 and beyond when state officials awarded the bid to Barden instead of Isle of Capri.

Under the "Plan B" financing scheme for a new building to replace Mellon Arena, the NHL's oldest home ice, Barden would contribute $7.5 million a year for 30 years toward construction, with another $7 million a year from the state.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, who sits on the Sports & Exhibition Authority board, told Pittsburgh-area newspapers the deal on the table is better than what Kansas City is offering.

"It seems like [team owners] keep waiting for it to get sweeter and sweeter," Fontana said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Is this just a negotiating ploy to get more? If the deal in Kansas City or someplace else was better, they would have walked already."

In the meantime, Houston officials are readying to make their own bid for the Penguins. Pittsburgh and Houston media outlets reported the Penguins will visit Houston's Toyota Center this week.

"We look forward to seeing them if they're here," Tad Brown, CEO of the NBA's Houston Rockets and the company that operates the Toyota Center, told the Houston Chronicle. "We'll show them how great a city Houston is and how great Toyota Center is."

The Penguins' lease at Mellon Arena runs out in June, and Fontana told the Tribune-Review that the Penguins are concerned about how much money they might lose by extending the lease two seasons rather than moving to Kansas City.

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