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Six suitors for Pens are back

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Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006

Six suitors for the Penguins resurfaced Wednesday after the Isle of Capri Casinos failed to win the sole state license to operate a slots parlor in Pittsburgh.

The suitors include Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who abruptly backed away last week from finalizing a $175 million deal to buy the club.

"All it takes is three motivated parties and a five-minute phone call to get this deal back on track," Balsillie said in an e-mail. "We've fully studied the situation and are prepared to complete the purchase and immediately commence good-faith 'Plan B' negotiations with the government officials to keep the team in Pittsburgh."

Other suitors include New York businessman Andrew Murstein, Massachusetts developer Lawrence Gottesdiener and Toronto brewer Frank D'Angelo and real estate developer Sam Fingold of Hartford, Conn.

"Right now, we are going to quietly sit back and watch and see how this plays out in the next few weeks," Fingold said via e-mail.

Perhaps the most intriguing suitor is Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban, a dot-com billionaire who owns the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA. Cuban has contacted the NHL about buying the Penguins, a league source told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Cuban has not respond to repeated e-mails.

The Penguins had partnered with Isle of Capri Casinos of St. Louis in the bid for the slots license. The company agreed to build a $290 million arena for the Penguins in the Lower Hill District.

The Penguins' lease at Mellon Arena expires June 30. The club is free to relocate after that date.

Fingold, Murstein, Gottesdiener and Ohio businessman Jim Renacci were involved in previous discussions to purchase the Penguins before Balsillie agreed to buy the club. Renacci, a Ringgold High School graduate, said he is not close to making another bid.

Since 2005, the Mario Lemieux ownership group has reached tentative deals with three men: San Jose, Calif., venture capitalist William "Boots" Del Biaggio III, Fingold and Balsillie.

Last month, Del Biaggio signed a long-term lease with Kansas City's Sprint Center that provides him with exclusive rights to any NHL club that comes to that city.

"I'm still trying to get my arms around the situation to see how Pittsburgh is going to go about selling or not selling (its) team now," Del Biaggio said. "I don't know where the NHL is going to stand on it. Does it stay in Pittsburgh• Are you allowed to move• I think a lot is going to have to play out this week.

"I'm not hopeful right now because I think a lot of people are going to go for it."

Murstein said his group is still interested and restated his pledge to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. He also said he would be willing to work the local officials on "Plan B."

"It is what I wanted to do months ago," Murstein said of "Plan B." "It is a very fair starting point, and I am confident we could work out a deal along those lines."

Cuban was originally part of Murstein's ownership group. On his personal blog in October, Cuban lamented not doing more to purchase the Penguins.

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