Pittsburgh needs a new arena to keep the Penguins

One of the hottest and most exciting teams in the entire National Hockey League calls the city of Pittsburgh its home — for the time being. The Pittsburgh Penguins have moved up into fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 22 games remaining. Sadly, the confusing future of the Penguins is up in the air. The Penguins are (gasp!) exploring the possibility of relocating to another city, while trying to negotiate a deal for a new arena in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins’ lease at Mellon Arena expires at the end of June and Penguins officials have stated that the 45-year-old building must be replaced for the Penguins to viably remain in the city.

A plan to build a new $290 million arena in uptown Pittsburgh was set up by Isle of Capri Casinos, but this plan fell apart on December 20 when Isle of Capri lost out on receiving the city’s sole slots license, putting the Penguins and owner Mario Lemieux in a precarious position.

Shortly after this news, Lemieux announced that the Penguins’ future in Pittsburgh was “uncertain” and relocation was a possibility.

Since this point, a “Plan B” option has been discussed between Lemieux, Governor Edward G. Rendell and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. The current option divides up the costs of the new arena. Slots winner Don Barden would contribute a portion of the funds, as would the state of Pennsylvania. The Penguins, however, would be responsible for paying a portion up front, as well as money annually. Lemieux, obviously not pleased with the offer, wants a better deal.

Lemieux met with Kansas City officials and Sprint Center representatives in January about moving the Penguins to Kansas. Kansas City officially made an impressive offer, which didn’t require the Penguins to pay any rent or construction costs. Other destinations rumored to be under consideration include Portland, Houston, Winnipeg, and Tulsa.

It would be a tragedy for the Penguins to leave Pittsburgh, its home since the teams’ formation in 1967.

Looking at the numbers, Pittsburgh is one of the NHL’s strongest U.S. markets. Mellon Arena was 92 percent full last season, despite the Penguins’ finishing in last place; attendance is even higher this season. Also, the Penguins have no NBA team in town to draw fans and attention away, unlike some of the possible relocation cities.

On paper, the Penguins’ ownership at this point would be getting a better deal relocating to Kansas City. But Kansas City?! The city was briefly home to an NHL expansion franchise in the mid-1970s but the city and hockey go together about as well as sandpaper and silk.

Governor Rendell announced in early February that an offer better than “Plan B” has been presented to Lemieux, in which the Penguins’ share of the costs had been greatly reduced. Still, there is no timetable for a deal and considerable work still needs to be done as talks have hit a snag. The Penguins have balked at sharing parking revenue and redevelopment rights for the Mellon Arena site.

I just don’t see how some financial issues can completely outweigh the costs of taking away a city’s storied hockey franchise.

The Pittsburgh fans support the Penguins, win or lose. It’s not like they’re the Florida Marlins or the now defunct Montreal Expos. It made sense to relocate the Expos because the market in Montreal was about as lucrative as a hot dog stand in a community of vegetarians.

The Penguins and Lemieux initially said they would tell Kansas City officials by February 4 whether they would move to the Sprint Center next season. That decision was postponed, and so we wait.
With the Penguins’ future up in the air, we don’t know what will happen, but the thought of the Kansas City Penguins taking the ice next season is an unpleasant one.

Lemieux needs to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh and let the citizens enjoy a playoff run this season, without forcing them to sadly wonder whether they’re seeing the final games ever of the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise.