Rendell says state might ask NHL to intercede if Penguins try to move

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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.

"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 per cent 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 US$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 parlour, 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 (2007-2008) schedule is going to look like.

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

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 per cent 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.


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