12/11/05 - an article in the Post-Gazette quotes Mario Lemieux as saying that there's only a slim chance the team can stay here and be viable. His main basis for this is that there has been a lack of progress towards getting a new arena. The team is slated to lose about $7 million this year, assuming they are near capacity for all home games AND get to the second round of the playoffs (which obviously isn't looking so good). To add to that, Fleury is playing really well, and it's doubtful the team will be able to send him down (ie, his bonuses will kick in). Add this shortfall to the depressing thought that an arena is likely 4-5 years away, and it makes Lemieux doubtful about a long term solution. This serves as a kick in the pants to the local politicians, especially County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.
12/13/05 - Dan Onorato jumps into action, saying that while there is no local money to be had for an arena (as the city is just coming out of bankruptcy and the county just laid off 500 people), there is $90 million in the state budget that could be used for a stadium (which is expected to cost near $300 million). Onorato says that he really wants to keep the team in Pittsburgh, and Mayor-elect Bob O'Connor is working with him on a plan to get funding for an arena.
12/14/05 - it is reported that the Pens have met privately with current Mayor Murphy, Mayor-elect O'Connor and County Chief Executive Dan Onorato. The local Sports & Exhibition authority is to vote next week on a plan put together by the team that would be implemented should the team get the funding for an arena (or the slots license). In the same article, Governor Rendell shows a lack of enthusiasm for building an arena, saying that there are a lot of important projects in Allegheny County and that he would take his lead from local government.
12/15/05 - Dan Onorato makes his most emphatic statement yet, saying that "I want to make it clear that we want to keep the Penguins here." He says that all of the $90 million in state money could be used, even if it's at the expense of other projects. Mayor-elect O'Connor, the primary voice that could cause problems, has only shown support for these statements from Onorato.
So, my reaction to this recent flurry of news...
- When the Pirates and Steelers got their stadiums (with public money, by the way), the Penguins sat back and played nice guys, saying that they were comfortable that they would get what was needed when the time came. In looking back, that was probably a mistake - they should have jumped in while there was money available.
- There is an undercurrent of resentment towards Mario Lemieux in the city. Largely, I attribute this to Steeler fans, who think that he's cold or distant or lazy (a 6'4" man on skates will never look like he's working the way a 240 lb running back dragging tacklers does). They also didn't like sharing the spotlight with the Pens through much of the 90s when the team was doing well and making regular trips deep into the playoffs.
- Governor Rendell, who hasn't met a dollar he didn't want to spend, is a Philadelphia guy. His laissez-faire attitude towards all things Pittsburgh isn't helping. Fortunately, he needs help from southwest PA in order to get reelected. This might make him more attentive to what is going on here.
- County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who in my opinion is a pretty decent and fair-minded fellow, is coming out as a staunch supporter of the Penguins. This is critical. The Pens are an important part of the city, and losing them (much as the yinzer Steeler fans would love it) would have a negative economic impact on the city. Pittsburgh has been going through some difficult times, as the region gets older and older, more young people keep leaving. Anything we can do to keep the city on the map in a positive light is really important.
- A new arena would be great for more than just hockey - it would be used for many other events. It would be the busiest of the three major sports venues in the city (the other two being PNC Park and Heinz Field). This has an impact beyond just the Penguins. The NCAA tournament was here a few years back - a new arena could help to bring them back. It would also make the city a better destination for more frequent big concert events.
- The Pens can build the arena on their own if they are awarded the slots license. However, there have been repeated reports that the license for the Pittsburgh area is being awarded to the Station Square group to repay political favors done for Gov Rendell.
There's sure to be more news on this stuff in the coming weeks and months, as Bob O'Connor takes office and we get closer to the summer, when the team can negotiate with other cities. One way or another, this will be resolved soon. I just hope it's resolved with the team here in a new building.