Posted: Wednesday January 11, 2006 3:43PM; Updated: Wednesday January 11, 2006 3:44PM
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Eighteen state, county and city lawmakers on Wednesday endorsed a plan in which a casino company would build a new hockey arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Isle of Capri Casinos would pay $290 million for the arena if the gambling company gets a license to operate a slot machine parlor in Pittsburgh, the team announced last month.
The Biloxi, Miss.-based company has joined with Nationwide Realty Investors, a key player in the Columbus Blue Jackets' arena and surrounding development projects, on a $1 billion plan that would also include the construction of new housing and retail space.
Pittsburgh-area state Sens. Jim Ferlo and Jay Costa, both Democrats, and Republicans Jane Orie and John Pippy joined nine state representatives and five members of the city and Allegheny County councils in endorsing the plan.
"We need jobs and income in the city of Pittsburgh, and when I look at the various projects that are out there ... this proposal clearly generates the largest amount of jobs," said Ferlo, who described the proposal as "an economic development no-brainer."
The Isle of Capri plan, unlike others, would help revitalize Pittsburgh's downtown area by creating revenue for the city, which is "struggling with its daily operating budget," he said at a news conference.
The lawmakers hope their united show of support will push the state's Gaming Control Board to award Isle of Capri a slots license later this year.
Three other groups, including one backed by Harrah's Entertainment Inc., have made bids for the slots-parlor license that will be given to Pittsburgh. The other applicants have said they might offer some arena funding, but none has offered to build the entire facility without using tax money, as Isle of Capri has.
The Penguins have said they may sell the team or move to another city if another arena is not built to replace 45-year-old Mellon Arena, the oldest and smallest in the NHL.
The Penguins are worth more than $100 million to Pittsburgh's economy, said City Council President Luke Ravenstahl, citing a recent Carnegie Mellon University study.
"If we lose that, that is money directly out of our city coffers and our city budget, and as we all know and as is well documented, we certainly can't afford to lose something of that magnitude," he said, adding that there was insufficient taxpayer money to fund the new arena.
Ravenstahl and other officials were traveling to Columbus to tour the Blue Jackets' arena and nearby development projects, considering them an example of what might be achieved in Pittsburgh.
Jim Motznik, a city councilman, said officials previously had been unable to find a private developer to take on the job of building a new arena.
"The Penguins have been successful in finding someone to make an investment, which is new when we talk about building arenas," he said. "It is the perfect storm and we have to take advantage of it."
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)