Cool On The Penguins
City Developer No Longer Jockeying In Pittsburgh
December 19, 2006 -- Jeffrey B. Cohen & Paul Doyle -- Hartford Courant

The downtown Hartford developer who was once the second-highest bidder to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins says he is not pursuing the team now that the most recent deal to purchase it has collapsed.

"While we are monitoring the situation in Pittsburgh, we are moving forward and pursuing other NHL opportunities," said Chuck Coursey, a spokesman for Northland Investment Corp. and Lawrence R. Gottesdiener.

The latest deal called for the Penguins' current owners, including Mario Lemieux, to sell the team to Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie for about $175 million. But the deal collapsed late last week when Balsillie withdrew his offer.

On Monday, Lemieux said that deal was "unequivocally" dead and that he is trying to reach a deal with a casino that promises to build an arena for the financially struggling team.

Isle of Capri has said it would build a $290 million facility for the Penguins to replace 45-year-old Mellon Arena - at no cost to taxpayers or the team - if it obtains a slot-machine license from the state. That ruling from Pennsylvania gambling regulators could come Wednesday.

"We are solely focused on the Isle of Capri's bid, which would ensure the Penguins' future in Pittsburgh for the long term," Lemieux said in a statement. "If the Isle is not successful on Wednesday, we will have to consider all of our options."

Gottesdiener's Northland Investment Corp. has more than $500 million invested in downtown Hartford. He is one of three bidders who have made offers to the state to take ownership of the decades-old Civic Center. The state is considering the bids.

His plan, submitted in a partnership with arena management firm SMG, stays true to what Gottesdiener has said all year: He wants to buy an NHL team and he wants to build a new arena.

The state, which operates the Civic Center, hired a consultant who said a new, NHL-ready arena could cost between $300 million and $400 million.

Gottesdiener's bid to buy the Penguins last summer finished second to another developer with assets in Hartford, Sam Fingold. Fingold signed a letter of intent to buy the team in July but was unable to complete the deal. Efforts to reach Fingold Monday were unsuccessful.

Balsillie, who is based in Ontario, was reportedly unhappy the NHL asked him to keep the team in Pittsburgh regardless of the outcome Wednesday.

A new prospective buyer emerged over the weekend, when Toronto brewery owner Frank D'Angelo said he would bid and pledged to keep the team in Pittsburgh.

D'Angelo's group includes NHL Hall of Famer Phil Esposito, who is approaching the Penguins ownership on behalf of the group.

New York businessman Andrew Murstein, who also had said he would keep the team in Pittsburgh, could re-enter the bidding. Murstein had recruited Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a Penguins season ticket holder, as a minority partner in his initial bid.

Lemieux didn't rule out the possibility that his ownership group would keep the team.