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Penguins' arena negotiations details kept quiet

| Saturday, March 10, 2007

Public officials are trying to close a deal for a new Uptown arena that would keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said Friday.

That's why they agreed to say little publicly about negotiations with the team after a meeting in Philadelphia, which produced an agreement to meet again Wednesday.

The talks are focused on "a lot of details with leases, with debt service, with financing," Onorato said. Asked what sticking point was holding up an agreement, he said, "I'm not even going to say there is any."

"Our concern is to get a deal done, and we don't want to disrupt that by having misinformation get out there," Onorato said. "Right now, we're trying to close the deal."

Team owners and public officials met for more than four hours Thursday, and a spokesman reported "significant progress" toward an arena financing agreement. The Penguins' lease at Mellon Arena expires in June.

For a new arena, team owners have agreed to pay $3.6 million annually for 30 years in rent and $400,000 a year for capital improvements. The team has said it also would pay $500,000 a year for a parking garage.

"We're getting there," Onorato said. "We had a good meeting. We have another one scheduled, and that's good news."

The arena would be built on property owned by the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority between Centre and Fifth avenues. The agency plans to break ground by September and complete construction by fall 2009.

This week's meeting included team co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, Gov. Ed Rendell, Onorato and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman mediated the talks.

"We had a productive meeting last night, and we're optimistic because of the agreement to meet next Wednesday," Ravenstahl said.

Neither the Penguins nor the NHL would comment.

Penguins officials were scheduled to meet today in Los Angeles with officials from AEG, the company hired to operate Kansas City's new Sprint Center, said Steve Glorioso, spokesman for Kansas City's mayor. Burkle is a close friend of AEG President Tim Leiweke, and the two are neighbors in a suburb of Beverly Hills.

"(Burkle and Leiweke) speak on a regular basis, and I absolutely expect that they will be talking to each other over the next few days," said AEG spokesman Michael Roth.

After declaring an impasse in talks for a Pittsburgh arena on Monday, the Penguins renewed discussion with AEG officials in Los Angeles on Wednesday. In January, Lemieux and Burkle toured the Sprint Center construction site during a visit to Kansas City. The building is expected to open in October.

Glorioso earlier this week confirmed that AEG improved its offer of free rent and partial revenues for the Penguins, but he did not know specifics of the deal. Kansas City has been trying to lure the team to play there beginning next season.

Ravenstahl said no one involved in Thursday's discussion mentioned the subject of the Penguins making more trips to interested cities. Burkle met Wednesday with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

"We really didn't get into that," Ravenstahl said.

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