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Rendell may ask NHL to intercede if Pens try to move

PITTSBURGH -- Gov. Ed Rendell said Tuesday that should arena
negotiations with the Pittsburgh Penguins break down and the team
decide to move, the state might ask the National Hockey League to
intercede.

Rendell, responding to Penguins owner Mario Lemieux's comments
that last week's arena talks had taken a step backward, said the
latest proposal is so good that he can't imagine that the NHL would
allow the Penguins to leave.

"Is there a possibility that they will decide to leave? Yes,
there is," Rendell said. "But is there a possibility we would go
to the NHL board of governors and say, 'Hey, if you let them leave,
no city is safe?' Sure."

Rendell added, "But, again, we don't want to reach that stage.
We will continue to work it out, we will continue to work on the
deal and do the very best we can."

According to Rendell, the latest proposal calls for the Penguins
to pay less than 18 percent of the arena's cost -- a reference to
the percentage of PNC Park's construction covered by the Pirates.
The Penguins' arena is projected at $290 million, but could cost
more.

The state's other major sports teams -- the NFL's Eagles and
Steelers, the NBA's 76ers, the NHL's Flyers and baseball's Phillies
-- all paid a higher percentage, Rendell said. Philadelphia's 76ers
and Flyers share the Wachovia Center, which was built mostly with
private funds.

As one incentive, the Penguins would keep all revenue for
non-hockey events, except for some parking fees -- a provision that
could net them millions of dollars per year.

However, Lemieux said he was "very disappointed" with
Thursday's negotiations involving the team and state, county and
city leaders.

The Penguins were surprised when they were asked to share
development rights near Mellon Arena with Detroit businessman Don
Barden. The successful bidder for a Pittsburgh slot machines
parlor, Barden has agreed to contribute $7.5 million per year to
the arena.

"As always, we're going to explore our options," Lemieux said
in Dallas, where he is attending the NHL All-Star Game. "When we
get a deal we like, we'll sign it."

Penguins officials, including Lemieux, visited Kansas City
immediately before the first round of arena talks Jan. 4. The team
is weighing whether to visit Houston's Toyota Center.

"Sooner or later, we're just going to make a decision and go
with it," Lemieux said.

At his All-Star news conference Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary
Bettman said there was no set date for the Penguins to decide
whether to stay or leave.

"My hope is that a building on terms that make sense to the
franchise will be achievable in Pittsburgh and this will become a
non-issue," Bettman said. "But at some point in the
not-too-distant future, in a matter of weeks, we have to start
focusing with some certainty on what the (2007-08) schedule is
going to look like.

"Time is of the essence, but I wouldn't want to portray an
urgency today," he said.

The Penguins, despite playing in an outdated arena, are
considered one of the league's strongest U.S. franchises. They are
playing to nearly 95 percent of arena capacity -- a much higher
percentage than teams based in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston,
Washington, Miami and Atlanta.

Despite the lack of progress last week, Rendell said he is not
discouraged.

"I've done about four of these stadium negotiations either as
mayor [of Philadelphia] or governor and this is the way it goes,"
Rendell said. "One side says things are looking good, then the
other side says 'No, you haven't satisfied our demands, we're going
to look elsewhere.' There's give and take."

Since their inception 40 years ago, the Penguins have played in
Mellon Arena, which was built in 1961 and is the NHL's oldest
arena.