Pens reject Cuban group

| Saturday, July 22, 2006

It looks as if Mark Cuban and Dan Marino will not be buying the Pittsburgh Penguins after all.

Andrew Murstein, the New York City financier heading their group's bid for the hockey team, said the group increased its offer Friday, but it was rejected by the Penguins.

The group offered more than $170 million, as high as it intends to go, Murstein said.

"We increased our offer significantly, and it was not accepted," he said.

Penguins spokesman David Morehouse declined to comment on the ongoing sales process.

Five groups have bid on the Penguins, each offering more than $150 million. But it is believed that at least two of the groups have offered about $175 million.

The highest remaining bidder apparently is Sam Fingold, a Hartford, Conn., businessman who has talked about moving the team to Kansas City if Pittsburgh does not build an arena.

Larry Gottesdiener, a Massachusetts developer who had said he might move the team to Hartford, is believed to have the next highest bid.

Cuban, Marino and Murstein formed a partnership with strong local connections. Cuban is a Mt. Lebanon native who owns the Dallas Mavericks National Basketball Association franchise.

An Oakland native, Marino was a star quarterback for Central Catholic High School and the University of Pittsburgh before becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback for the National Football League's Miami Dolphins.

The group includes the principals of Walnut Capital, a Shadyside development company.

It is believed that a group formed by Ohio businessman Jim Renacci offered a lower bid. A group that considered moving the team to Hamilton, Ont., apparently has cooled its interest.

Cuban has indicated his desire to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

Murstein, president of Medallion Financial Group, earlier said the Cuban group's intent was to build a sports-themed development around a new arena that would include a hotel, stores and restaurants.

Penguins owners -- including former team captain Mario Lemieux and California investor Ron Burkle -- hope to finalize the team's sale before the season starts in September.

Talk of the Penguins sale has been tied to plans for replacing Mellon Arena.

Isle of Capri Casinos has offered to pay $290 million for a new arena if it wins the license for a slot machine parlor in Pittsburgh. That's believed to be enough incentive for any of the potential buyers to keep the team here.

Gov. Ed Rendell has asked the other two casino bidders to pay $7.5 million a year toward an arena if either one wins the casino license. The governor's plan calls for the team to pay $8.5 million up front and $2.9 million a year, while forgoing $1.1 million a year in naming rights.

It's not clear whether all the potential buyers are agreeable to those terms.

Work can start immediately on buying Uptown properties for an arena, Rendell said during a Pittsburgh visit last month. The state has agreed to give the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority $26.5 million from slots money to get the project started.

The team's lease at Mellon Arena expires in June.

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