Governor Rendell more optimistic Penguins arena deal can be reached

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Following several days of back-and-forth exchanges between the governor and Penguins chairman and former star player Mario Lemieux, Rendell said Wednesday he believes an agreement is in reach.

"We want to reach an agreement. We think we're getting closer," Rendell said. "We're hopeful."

In a phone conversation Tuesday night, Rendell and co-owner Ron Burkle discussed some of the arena issues that needed to be clarified and agreed to work on them. The governor also said he expects to speak with Burkle again early next week, but that no new negotiating sessions are scheduled.

Burkle is also talking with Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County chief executive Dan Onorato.

At the NHL all-star game in Dallas this week, Lemieux said the time was drawing near for the Penguins to decide whether to stay or to relocate - possibly to Kansas City. Team executives also are considering a visit to Houston, the largest U.S. city without an NHL team.

Lemieux said last week's negotiating session with Rendell, county and city leaders took a step backward because of a request the team share revenues from a redevelopment of the Mellon Arena site with casino operator Don Barden.

Barden was chosen last month by the state gaming board to build the only slots machine parlour licence granted in Pittsburgh. Barden has agreed to contribute US$7.5 million per year toward a new arena, but also wants to redevelop the area around Mellon Arena, where the Penguins have played since 1967.

Rendell also said the state still can "tweak this a little bit," in reference to the arena deal - meaning further concessions could be offered.

On Tuesday, Rendell said the proposal already was the best given any of Pennsylvania's seven major pro sports teams, and he threatened to take it to the NHL's board of governors if the Penguins attempted to move.

"Remember, when commissioner (Gary) Bettman came to Pittsburgh, he said loud and clear that if an offer on a stadium was a good offer, given the strength of the fan base here, that they wouldn't move," Rendell said.

During a Nov. 28 meeting with Ravenstahl and Onorato, Bettman said, "We all agreed it's important for the Penguins to stay in Pittsburgh and that's what we all want."

The Penguins are the only Pennsylvania major pro sports team playing in an arena or stadium that is more than 10 years old. Mellon Arena was built in 1961.

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