Pens owners, government officials to meet again

Updated: March 12, 2007, 11:41 AM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' future remained unsettled Thursday after four hours of discussions resulted in plans for another negotiating session next week.

Owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, Gov. Ed Rendell, Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met in Philadelphia for negotiations for a new arena for the team.

The talks ended shortly after 11 p.m., and the sides agreed to meet again next week.

"We had a very constructive meeting where significant progress was made," the team and elected officials said in a joint statement. "The parties have agreed to meet next Wednesday. They have also agreed that no further comment will be made."

Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo would not divulge the location of either meeting.

The Penguins are threatening to leave Pittsburgh if they can't secure a new rink. Their lease at 46-year-old Mellon Arena, the oldest facility in the league, expires June 30 and the team is free to leave after that.

Across the state where the Penguins faced the New Jersey Devils, fans started a "Save Our Pens!" chant less than a minute into the game.

"It would be a total loss for the region. It's more than just entertainment, it's more than just a hockey team; it's a part of the region," said 26-year-old Vince Comunale, who has season tickets. "It generates a lot of revenue for this region, a lot more than people realize."

The Penguins issued a letter Monday saying the team planned to pursue relocation actively. It blamed government officials for failing to complete an arena deal, even though the team agreed to pay $120 million over 30 years toward a $290 million facility and to cover any cost overruns.

"If they have some kind of manageable arena deal, then they should stay here," said Elliott Robinson, of Shaler. "We back the Penguins to a point where, if they ask for too much, we would say they are being unreasonable. But they haven't got to that point yet."

Team owners have cast a wide net in search of a new home, including visits to Kansas City, Mo., and Las Vegas.

The Penguins have been offered free rent and half of all revenues if they agree to play in Kansas City's soon-to-be-completed $262 million Sprint Center, under operation by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

Steve Glorioso, a spokesman for Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes, stressed the city at this point is not involved in the negotiations.

"We really are kind of spectators," Glorioso said. "It's Pittsburgh's to win or lose. We can't do much more than what we've done."

At Thursday's game, there were dozens of signs and colorful banners throughout the arena with sentiments ranging from anti-Rendell or anti-Kansas City to pro-Penguins and pro-Pittsburgh. Four shirtless men in the crowd spelled out "NO KC" across their chests.

Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman said Thursday he had a "very pleasant chat" with Penguins officials for about a half-hour the previous day but wouldn't get into specifics.

"I don't want to be used as a pawn," he said.

The Penguins began playing in Pittsburgh in 1967 and won the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992. Their home attendance and local TV ratings are among the strongest of the NHL's 24 U.S.-based franchises.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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