Hockey Dream Won't Die

August 3, 2006 -- Jeffrey B. Cohen -- Hartford Courant

The man who was the runner-up to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins says he is "still determined to bring hockey back to Hartford" and is actively looking into two other hockey teams.

Lawrence R. Gottesdiener - whose bid to buy the Penguins was second only to that of Hartford developer Sam Fingold - won't name the teams he is pursuing, but insists he isn't giving up.

"We are still determined to bring NHL hockey back to Hartford," Gottesdiener said, adding that his work on two other NHL teams is "preliminary" and that he isn't sure if either can be moved.

"I don't think this was a setback for Hartford," Gottesdiener said of the failed attempt at the Penguins. Buying the team would have gotten him in the NHL door, but - since the Penguins will likely stay in Pittsburgh - it wouldn't have brought hockey to Hartford anytime soon, he said. "If our core objective was to bring pro sports back to Hartford, it wasn't going to happen with this team at this time."

But there's still the problem of the arena, he said. Citing a state consultant's report that said a major league team would need a new arena at $300 million to $400 million, Gottesdiener said "Hartford's not ready for professional sports today."

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 has pitched his plan to legislative and gubernatorial representatives.

Now that Pittsburgh is off the table, other potential targets are teams with low attendance numbers, including the New York Islanders, the Nashville Predators, the Atlanta Thrashers and the Florida Panthers.

While he pursues a team, it's up to community and political leaders to decide if the will exists to pay for an arena, Gottesdiener said.

Last month, House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, hosted a discussion with representatives from the city, UConn and the business community to talk about the potential for an arena.

"There was no one in that room that stood up and said, `Are you out of your mind?" Amann said Wednesday.

Amann added that two other people have continued to express interest in bringing hockey to Hartford - one he wouldn't name, the other is former Whalers' owner Howard Baldwin.

Although preliminary meetings have shown that there is support for the idea of a new arena, Amann said Mayor Eddie A. Perez must declare his intentions on the matter.

"The day that the mayor stands up at a public venue making the statement that we need a new facility in Hartford, and here is my vision for what that's going to be - that's what needs to be done," Amann said.

Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff, said the mayor wants a facility that will attract an NHL franchise. "Now, can the city of Hartford afford that?" Hennessy asked. "No, the city doesn't have the resources."