Pitt Proposal Skips Arena

When hockey great Mario Lemieux retired for good January 24th, he told the press he would continue to try to keep the team he played on and majority owns, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the city.

His biggest hurdle could be Harrah’s Entertainment, which threw its significant weight behind a recent proposal to build a casino in Pittsburgh. The offer counters one proposed by Isle of Capri Casinos, which also wants to build a casino in Pittsburgh but dedicated $290 million to building an alternative to the ancient Mellon Arena, where the Penguins play.

Harrah’s and Forest City Enterprise have made a tempting offer to the city, proposing to build a $1 billion makeover of Station Square that would include a $512 million casino with the floor space equivalent to seven football fields, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It would include 1,250 condominiums, at least 200 hotel rooms, restaurants, retail – but no arena.

“Frankly, we think we’re pretty good at what we do at Forest City,” the company’s Brian Ratner reportedly said. He could say the same for Harrah’s.

A 2004 law allows only one casino to be built within Pittsburgh city limits, and the proposals mentioned are competing with two more that want to build gaming venues on the city’s North Shore. If the city likes Harrah’s bid, not only will it put a damper on a change-up for Mellon Arena, it will also be built over the active Chevrolet Amphitheatre.

Despite a comment from a gaming official that the Harrah’s proposal was meant to “blow people away,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor said he wished the proposal included funding for an arena. Forest City officials said that if they win the license, they would discuss the issue with city and county leaders. “I look forward to seeing what they mean by that in their support of a future facility,” O’Connor told the Post-Gazette.

The Penguins’ lease at Mellon wraps next year, and Lemieux said in the past that there was a “slim chance” the team would stay past the 2006-07 season without a new home. The owner has sought a new facility since he acquired a majority stake in the team in 1999.

The 44-year-old facility is the oldest and second smallest in the National Hockey League.