Monday, September 24, 2007

Penguins officially staying in Pittsburgh through 2040

It has been a long road to get to this point in the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I'm not talking about their on-ice success or failures. This is about their long-term future in the Steel City.

Six days ago marked the official beginning of what the city of Pittsburgh hopes to be a continued relationship with the Penguins for many years to come. On Thursday, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell announced that the team signed a 30-year lease for their new arena which makes them contractually bound to stay right where they are until June 30, 2040. That's right, you heard me correctly.

Back in March, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux finally reached the goal he had been seeking for the past seven years. That was to secure funding for a desperately needed new arena for his National Hockey League franchise in Pittsburgh. Lemieux along the team's chief executive officer Ken Sawyer were successful in hammering out a deal with Rendell, Allegheny County chief executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl to get the arena built.

This quest was accomplished under intense pressure with the fans and the NHL keeping a close watch on the negotiations as well as officials from other cities interested in housing the franchise. Prior to this agreement being reached, the one and only one option that Lemieux had to get the funding needed to raise $290 million for the new arena was to team up with Isle of Capri, a company that was willing to pay the full cost under the condition they win a state license to bid a casino in Pittsburgh.

When the Isle of Capri bid failed last December, Lemieux had all but given up hope the Penguins would be able to stay in town. The relocation talk picked up steam and speculation clearly had Kansas City as the frontrunner to get the team next season given their own new arena was in the late stages of construction and Sprint Center would've been ready to house the Penguins. Before the Pittsburgh arena agreement was reached, the Penguins lease at Mellon Arena was set to expire on June 30th.

With the new arena in Pittsburgh set to open in 2010, a lease extension was previous signed for Mellon Arena while the team continues to play there in the meantime. The lease for new arena was authorized by the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County's Sports and Exhibition Authority on June 7th and signed by the Penguins on September 18th.

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