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Oh, what a night in Steeltown!

March 14, 2007

Penguins new arena (HOK Sport)

Pittsburgh had one of the grandest nights in its city’s history last night. Its hockey superstar, Mario Lemieux, stepped onto the Mellon Arena ice last night before his Pittsburgh Penguins faced the Buffalo Sabres.

Mario on the ice (AP)After an ovation from the sellout crowd spurred by just the sight of the owner/hockey legend, he said only 18 words.

“Tonight, I’m proud to announce that your Pittsburgh Penguins will remain right here in Pittsburgh, where they belong.”

And then the party REALLY was on. The final realization that the starstruck Penguins — once bankrupt, once shuttered by the IRS, once on it’s way out of town (twice) — were staying in Pittsburgh for 30 years more.

And that a state-of-the-art new arena was coming in three years to replace the aging Igloo — an arena that will rival the city’s stadium jewels of PNC Park and Heinz Field. Mario also announced he was staying on as owner, and wouldn’t sell the team as previously expected.

And then, to top it all off, the young Penguins rise to the occasion and beat the Sabres 5-4 in an overtime shootout. Icing on the cake!

Here’s the major components of the arena deal:

  • $7.5 million a year for 30 years from Pittsburgh casino winner Don Barden.
  • $7.5 million a year for 30 years from gambling-financed state economic development fund.
  • $4.2 million a year, including $2 million annually in naming rights, from the Penguins. Also included in the $4.2 million team share is $400,000 a year from a parking surcharge once the new arena is opened and $200,000 a year from parking once Mellon Arena is demolished.
  • The city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority will pay the Penguins $8.5 million for the team-owned old St. Francis Central Hospital.
  • $10.5 million from the state, including $8.5 million toward construction and $2 million for marketing.
  • $15 million credit to the Penguins as part of an agreement on development rights to 28 acres of the Mellon Arena property. The Penguins must develop 2.8 acres a year or lose the rights.
  • Construction cost estimated at $290 million. If the guaranteed maximum price for the arena ends up between $290 million and $310 million, the Penguins and the state will split the cost. Penguins will cover any cost overruns beyond the guaranteed maximum price.

Duquesne Gardens (Pittsburghhockey.com)Listening to the Penguins’ broadcast online last night, there was one caller who pushed for some sort of revival of the connection to Pittsburgh hockey roots — namely the Duquesne Gardens, where the old Pittsburgh Hornets/Pirates/Shamrocks played until the 1950s.

Can you hear it now? “I’m goin’ to the Gah-den to see Crosby tuh-nite.” (Yeah, that’s a terrible textual impression of a Pitt accent)

I agree, somehow the name “garden” needs to be part of the final name of the arena, which Mellon Financial has first-rights to. The Duquesne Light Garden maybe? (Or why not the Iron City Garden? The “Beer Garden”)

The only concerns I have about this whole deal are the pending appeal of the gambling casino licenses, which provide a substantial chunk of money for the project, and the cost overruns that the Penguins would have to foot if the project skyrockets in cost. See this story about the New Jersey Devils’ new Newark arena going over by $100 million for more about that.

And can SOMEONE thank Sidney Crosby? Or at least build a statue to the ping-pong-ball machine that the Pens’ had a 6.5 percent chance to win his drafting rights back in 2004? We wouldn’t be here today (staying in Pittsburgh) without him.

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