Penguins Move Won't Fly, Developer Says

July 13, 2006 -- Paul Doyle and Jeffrey B. Cohen -- Hartford Courant

Since declaring his intention to bring the NHL back to Hartford, developer Lawrence R. Gottesdiener has pursued the league's only available franchise.

Gottesdiener is among four known bidders for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who should be sold by the end of the summer. A New York firm brokering the sale is expected to pare down the list of bidders in the next few days, so an offer could soon be accepted.

But don't expect the relocation of the franchise, another bidder said Wednesday. Hartford developer Sam Fingold, who is attempting to purchase the Penguins with his father and brother, doesn't see the Penguins going anywhere.

"I know the Penguins' first goal is to keep the team in Pittsburgh, so I don't know what [Gottesdiener's] goal really is," Fingold said. "I have a hard time believing that team is leaving Pittsburgh."

Fingold, who operates Kenyon Investments in Hartford, is the son of Toronto real estate magnate David Fingold. Sam Fingold has talked to officials in Kansas City about moving the Penguins, but he said recently that his family would keep the team in Pittsburgh.

Two other bidders have also said they would not move the franchise. Ohio businessman Jim Renacci, owner of the Arena Football League's Columbus Destroyers, is a native of the Pittsburgh area. New York businessman Andy Murstein has Pittsburgh businesses as minority partners and has added high-profile Pittsburgh natives Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA, and former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino to his group.

That leaves Gottesdiener, who would not comment Wednesday. Gottesdiener has said he would still pursue the Penguins even if it meant keeping the team in Pittsburgh, pledging to purchase another team for Hartford in the future.

The franchise is expected to sell for more than $150 million and the winning bidder would be bound to Pittsburgh if the Isle of Capri gaming company is given a slot license in the city. Isle of Capri, one of three companies bidding for the slot license, has pledged $290 million toward a new arena and the next owner of the Penguins will inherit the agreement.

The license is expected to be awarded in November or December.

If Isle of Capri fails to get the license, there is a backup plan. The plan, proposed by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, would require the company that is awarded the slot license to contribute $7.5 million a year while the Penguins would pay $4 million a year for a new arena, which would replace 45-year-old Mellon Arena.

Fingold has said Rendell's plan is workable. And even if the team is forced to relocate, Kansas City - which will open a new arena next year - is the first option.

Hartford is not an alternative for Fingold, even though he is based in the city.

"I'd rather buy a team and put it in another city than have it in Hartford and deal with [Mayor] Eddie Perez, because I don't think he quite understands all the economics associated with bringing a team to the city," Fingold said. "You think Hartford should spend $290 million on a new arena vs. trying to figure out how to fix the school system and cut down crime?"

Told of Fingold's comment, Matt Hennessy, the mayor's chief of staff, said, "I think the city is excited that there are real developers with a history of success, such as Larry Gottesdiener, who are interested in bringing an NHL franchise to the city of Hartford."

Gottesdiener's Northland Investment Corp. has more than $500 million invested in downtown Hartford. He has proposed replacing the Civic Center with a $250 million downtown arena and last month pitched his plan to legislative and gubernatorial representatives.

House Speaker James A. Amann is an ardent supporter of building an arena, pledging to find state funding for the project.

Gottesdiener has said it could be years before he lands a team for Hartford. There are no other teams for sale, although that could change after next season.

The NHL must approve any relocation. Hartford lost the Whalers to North Carolina in 1997 and the league would need to be convinced that the market is ready to support a franchise.

Fingold is skeptical.

"There's an outside chance," he said, "but there are a lot of roadblocks and there are a lot of hurdles and a lot of other American cities that are ready to go and operate right away."