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Cuban, Marino to buy Pens?

| Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Homegrown sports icons Mark Cuban and Dan Marino have joined a group that wants to buy the Penguins and keep them in the city to anchor a potential sports-themed development around a new arena, the group's lead backer said Tuesday.

Cuban, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon and owns the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, confirmed he's joining New York financier Andrew Murstein's bid to buy the team. Cuban said by e-mail he wants "to help keep the team in Pittsburgh. That's a condition of my participation."

Murstein said he also recruited Marino as an investor. Marino grew up in Oakland and starred for Central Catholic High School and the University of Pittsburgh before becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. Marino could not be reached for comment.

"We're gonna try to work out a plan with a sports-themed hotel, stores and restaurants," said Murstein, president of Medallion Financial Group. "We want to do a whole complex around the arena. We have a lot of ideas."

Murstein is one of five serious bidders for the Penguins. His group includes the partners at Walnut Capital, a Shadyside real estate development firm.

A Penguins spokesman declined to comment on the pending sale, but another team official forwarded a statement from Steve Greenberg, managing director of Allen & Co., a New York firm hired to broker the sale, saying Murstein has not offered a formal bid.

Murstein said he has informally offered $150 million for the team and would be submitting a bid this week that would "bump it up." He said team owners have said he needs to "substantially" increase his offer to be among the top bidders.

"We probably will not be the highest bidder, but I'm guessing the highest bidder will not have the finances to pull it off," Murstein said.

The team could go for as much as $175 million.

"Our mandate has been to get the best deal for the current owners, and we hope that will include having the team stay," Greenberg told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The owners -- including former team captain Mario Lemieux and California investor Ron Burkle -- are accepting formal offers this week. They hope to finalize the sale before the season starts in September.

But there "really are no timetables" for choosing a buyer, Greenberg said.

The other serious bidders are New York private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners, Ohio businessman Jim Renacci, Massachusetts real estate developer Lawrence Gottesdiener, and Sam Fingold, a Toronto native who owns a Hartford, Conn., real estate company, and who would partner with family members in the venture.

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 slots 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 slots bidders to pay $7.5 million a year toward an arena, if either one wins the casino license. That 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 would agree to those terms. Gottesdiener has said he could move the team to Hartford, Conn., and the Fingolds have talked about moving the Penguins to Kansas City.

Work can start immediately on buying Uptown properties for an arena, Rendell said during a Pittsburgh visit yesterday. The state has agreed to give the county $25 million to $30 million from slots money to get the project started.

"We've told the county they can begin negotiations for the properties," Rendell said.

Mayor Bob O'Connor said the city has been "pro-active" with Murstein's group. He said the principals at Walnut Capital -- Gregg Perelman and Todd Reidbord -- supported his bid for mayor.

"We are committed to building a new arena," O'Connor said. "I believe the new owners who buy the team are guaranteed a good situation in Pittsburgh."

Reidbord, Walnut Capital's president, said he has talked with local politicians about the group's proposal and that the backers are "very serious" about buying the team.

"There's a lot of potential" for a sports-themed development around a new arena, he said, but the group has not drafted plans.

The Penguins and Isle of Capri have partnered with Nationwide Realty Investors, which has said it would lead a $300 million redevelopment of the Mellon Arena site if Isle of Capri gets the casino license.

The team's lease at Mellon Arena expires next June. Under its lease, the team can start looking for a new hometown on Saturday.

Additional Information:

Potential buyers

Five groups are seriously considering buying the Penguins:

&#149 Clarion Capital Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm headed by managing partner Marc Utay.

&#149 Sam Fingold, a Toronto native who owns a Hartford, Conn., real estate company, Kenyon Investments. Would partner with members of his family. Has said he might relocate the team to Kansas City if Pittsburgh does not build a new arena.

&#149 Lawrence Gottesdiener, a Massachusetts real estate developer, who might relocate the team to Hartford if Pittsburgh does not build a new arena.

&#149 Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial Group. Has partnered with billionaire Mark Cuban, football legend Dan Marino and the principals at Shadyside real estate development firm Walnut Capital, Gregg Perelman and Todd Reidbord.

&#149 Jim Renacci, an Ohio businessman, who owns the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League and serves as mayor of Wadsworth, Ohio.

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