Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"We just want a place to play"

These were the words spoken today by Penguins President Ken Sawyer at the press conference announcing the Penguins partners in their quest for a new arena.

The lynchpin to the entire deal is the Pens partner, Isle of Capri, being awarded the slots license. If that happens, Isle of Capri will build a $290 million arena and turn it over to the Sports and Exhibition Authority, the agency that currently runs the Mellon Arena.

In conjunction with this, Nationwide Realty will oversee development of the 28 acre site where the arena and it's related parking lots now stand.

There are a few other important points to the article posted on the Pens website:
  • There will be no public money used for the arena construction.
  • The Penguins will hold no interest of any kind in the slots parlor. They are only receiving an arena as part of the deal (leading to Ken Sawyer's words that are the title of this entry).
  • For the city, the Hill District will be connected with downtown again by cross streets. If you're familiar with the arena area, it's a maze of one-way roads. It's not easy to get from the Hill down into downtown.
  • Both Isle of Capri and Nationwide are fairly experienced. Isle has about 28 total casinos, some land based and some on riverboats. Nationwide helped Columbus build their arena and develop the surrounding area.

So the first die has been cast in the slots license sweepstakes. There is only one to get in the Pittsburgh area (for a free-standing casino, that is), and the Pens plan is impressive. This will certainly put pressure on some of the other hopeful licensees. In fact, from where I'm sitting, the baseline has been drawn. If someone else wants to top the almost $300 million in private money, it will likely only result in good things for the Pens.

An important part of downtown will be revitalized, and the Pens would stay. All in all, it was a very good day. Just so we don't have unbridled optimism, the slots license isn't likely to be awarded for another year, and the Pens can start negotiating with other cities next summer. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

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