Monday, March 5, 2007

Au Revoir, Monsieur Lemieux?

Yinz overwhelmingly voted for the former mayor of Philadelphia to continue as the Governor of Pennsylvania, passing on the chance to elect someone from around here. Yinz aren't even fielding a challenger of any kind to our incumbent County Executive. Yinz gave the sitting mayor a landslide endorsement victory over the weekend. And then, when the news breaks that the Penguins -- who have suffered from years of prior neglect from these same gentlemen and others just like them -- are about to leave town because they can't reach a deal with these guys, yinz finally start acting all pissed off. Where in the hell have you been?

For those of you just joining us, all up in arms over the impending loss of our hockey franchise, I would remind you that the status quo here in western Pennsylvania has been pretty much in the shitter for some time now. But you have continued to reelect incumbent after incumbent after incumbent for years and years, so there has never been any firm reason for things to change.

The worst part is that, in less than a decade, Pittsburgh will almost certainly turn around and decide that it's time to build a new arena, anyway. We will probably even justify the massive taxpayer expense by telling ourselves that doing so is the only way to attract some other city's hockey team. And then we will scratch our heads and wonder why even the most bankrupt teams in the NHL aren't all that interested in negotiating with Governor Onorato, County Executive Ravenstahl, and Mayor Regan.

And we will blame everybody but ourselves.

UPDATE #1: At least somebody is happy about this news. Check out what the Kansas City Star has to say about the matter:

Kansas City’s chances of bringing the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins may have brightened Monday when the team declared an impasse in negotiations for a new arena.

The Penguins, whose lease at antiquated Mellon Arena expires on June 30, said in a letter to governmental officials, they will “aggressively explore relocation.”

Anschutz Entertainment Group, which will manage the new, $276 million Sprint Center that’s scheduled to open in October, already has offered the Penguins a rent-free arrangement in which the team would share in all arena revenues with no up-front costs.

The Penguins have been negotiating terms for a $290 million new arena in Pittsburgh for several months and haven’t been able to agree on terms, especially if there are cost overruns. AEG is responsible for any cost-over-runs with the Sprint Center. [snip...]

The team had agreed to pay $3.6 million in annual rent at a new arena and $400,000 a year in additional capital expenses. But team officials said that wasn’t enough to satisfy state officials. The state recently withdrew an offer for the Penguins to pay $2.86 million a year, and negotiations broke down after that, officials said.

William “Boots” Del Biaggio III, a San Jose, Cal., businessman who has an option to own whichever NHL team plays at the Sprint Center, declined comment and referred questions to Bettman.

In a statement to The Star, Bettman said: “We are aware of the developments and have been in touch with the parties. Any further comment, at this point, would not be "Any further comment, at this point, would not be constructive."”
UPDATE #2: From the letter that the Penguins sent today to our local political leaders:
On January 4, we visited Kansas City and were greeted with open arms by arena officials and political and business leaders and were treated as valued new partners in the community. The terms of the deal offered in Kansas City were for a rent-free arena with no risk of cost overruns and no risk to arena funding. The arena is scheduled to open for next season.

Despite this great offer, we wanted to keep the team Pittsburgh and thought we owed it to our fans to do everything we could to make it work here. With that in mind, and on behalf of our organization, our loyal fans and the Pittsburgh region, we have made a single-minded effort to bring this new arena process to a successful conclusion and keep the team in Pittsburgh. Since the January 4 meeting we have played by the rules, extended our original deadline by 30 days, declined to visit any other cities and sought to work with you to finalize a deal.

Our good-faith efforts have not produced a deal, however, and have only added more anxiety to what we thought at best was a risky proposition for us moving forward. Those risks and the fact that our lease expires in less than four months leave us with no choice but to explore every option to ensure the long-term future of the Penguins organization.
Pardon me for pointing out the obvious here, but Mario sounds pissed. Also note the past-tense usage in the Penguin's statement that they "... wanted to keep the team in Pittsburgh...", along with the subtle dig at Interim Mayor Ravenstahl in including his "moving forward" language letter in the letter.

Onorato was on KDKA radio about an hour ago, saying that he was surprised that the Penguins had taken this step. He said that he thought a deal was still in reach. But from the way I read the Penguin's letter, it sure sounds like he's far more optimistic than he should be.


thomaspain said...

And don't let the door hit ya on the way out, Monsieur Lemieux. Seriously,why pony up to support a marginal sport like hockey -- and incidentally enrich Penguin owner and Friend of Bill Clinton billionaire Ron Burkle -- when we could maybe like save mass transit? But heck that would be socialism, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Poor Luke, he was so busy sucking up to the machine that he, once again, forgot to mind the store...

Jonathan Potts said...

Amen, Thomaspain. This region has a lot more pressing priorities than a new hockey arena. (Excuse me, "multi-purpose facility."

JT said...

The Pens aren't going to leave. The Pittsburgh offer is superior to the KC offer, for the simple fact that KC can only offer a portion of the arena revenue due to the existing ownership group out there. We are offering them ALL of the arena revenues. From a business standpoint, it is not in their best interest to move and the all-mighty dollar is going to guide this decision. Because Pittsburgh's offer is vastly superior, they are trying to do whatever they can to cause some public turmoil and squeeze whatever additional pennies they can out of the taxpayers.

Richmond K. Turner said...

I realize that my original post was done hastily and may have conveyed an incorrect sense of where I personally stand on this issue. I detest the massive public subsidies that are handed out to sports franchises. They are stupid, short-sighted, and have a very poor return for any taxpayer who isn't likely to ever attend a game by the team in question.

But there are some qualifications to my hatred of these subsidies:

(1) Like it or not -- and I don't like it -- that's the way that other cities approach this issue. If you want to have a team, you have to pay.

(2) Pens or no Pens, we will end up building a new arena anyway. Sooner or later, the hue and cry will go up to build it, and the mainentance costs of a 40+ year old building will begin to make it look like a sensible idea. If the Pens aren't available to fill this new arena, even more construction and management costs are going to get dumped back on the taxpayer.

If we're going to build it anyway, and I'm fairly certain that we are, we might as well do it while we still have a team that can fill the place on a regular basis.

(3) An arena is a better deal than a freaking football staduim. It takes up less land, requires less parking, and is used far more often than even a dual-tenant football venue like Heinz Field. If you are going to subsidize football (which we've already done, in both Pittsburgh and Philly), then there is a logical disconnect if you don't also subsidize an arena.

(4) The region certainly has more pressing problems, and public transportation is perhaps the biggest of these. But none of them have an obvious solution, and thus political and media types don't like to look too closely at them because they are complicated to explain and even more complicated to solve. The "new multi-purpose facility" issue has a largely binary solution set -- build it or don't build it -- and it gives politicians an easy way to placate an obvious constituency. That's why this issue keeps pushing its way up to the front of the line.

(5) My big point in this post was that most people have no standing to get suddenly pissed off about things now. I listened to KDKA radio yesterday as this news broke. Some guy called in and called for Rendell, Onorato, and Ravenstahl to be jailed for screwing this up! What the hell is that about? Rendell carried this whole region without breaking a sweat. Onorato is running unopposed. And now yinz say that you are furious with them -- that they should be imprisoned -- over a freaking hockey team?

Where the hell have yinz been?

(By "yinz", obviously, I don't mean either Thomas Pain or Jonathan Potts, but instead those who voted for these people but now hate them over this one issue).

EdHeath said...

I wonder if the mayoral race will turn on the Pens departure. I mean, a lot of bloggers are hoping the party endorsements don’t matter, but for Joe Citizen, who doesn’t spend a lot of time in front of his PC or even watching local news, the party endorsements are probably what they go on. To the extent they have even heard of progressives, they probably think “hippies”. But I think the Pens leaving might actually catch some notice, and Joe Voter might look for someone to punish, like that widespread punishment in the last statewide election (KDKA's listeners, apparently). Might be the only thing enough voters would notice to give Peduto (and Dowd) a chance. Silver lining? Who knows. Depends on how quick we get another team, and what silly name the new team has (Pittsburgh Robots, anyone?).
And I wonder how much Ravenstahl and Onorato might beg Mario to at least delay announcing the departure until after the primary.

Richmond K. Turner said...

If the Pens decide to leave, they will need to let the Kansas City folks know well before the primary. There are just too many things to do in K.C. to get things ready for the Pens to wait until mid-May.

Mark Rauterkus said...

"Pens or no Pens, we will end up building a new arena anyway."

NO WAY. If the Pens depart the city, there won't be a need for the new building / venue nor tenants to justify the new arena.

It won't happen. The city is broke and the county executive has pledged $0 for the new arena at present. The money isn't there.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Sorry Mark, but that's precisely what they said in Baltimore back in the mid-1980's. Ten years later, they were building a new stadium to get the Browns. Cleavland said the same thing, right up until they lost the Browns. Then they turned around and built a new stadium to get the new Browns.

We will end up buidling it anyway, sooner or later.

John said...

Baltimore only built their stadium as a part of the package to get the browns. Just as the City won't build an arena until there is confirmation that we have a tenant to occupy it.

Richmond K. Turner said...

You can nit-pick all you want on the specific examples that I've laid out there, but we will end up building a new arena anyway. Kansas City has neither basketball nor hockey, and they built an arena without any promised tenants at all.

At some point, a 40-50 year old building gets expensive to maintain. Concerts and shows will need an arena. And we'll bite the bullet and build one. If we can attract a tenant by promising to build it, then we'll probably be able to build a nicer one. But we will build it anyway, even without a tenant. And we'll build it nice enough to have a decent chance of attracting a team back to the Burgh. Especially if this strategy proves to be a winning formula for Kansas City.

Jonathan Potts said...

Your stop-me-before-I-kill-again logic is hard to argue with; certainly, someone will push for building a new arena even if the Penguins leave.

But I'm not yet cynical enough to support bad public policy in order to stop worse policy down the road. I'd rather we fight them, one at a time. Maybe, just maybe (hope springs eternal) that a city's status has nothing to do with whether we have a hockey team. (Or football or baseball teams, for that matter.)

Jonathan Potts said...

Oops, I meant to say "Maybe we will realize that a city's status..."