Exploring the possibility of relocating the Pittsburgh Penguins, owner Mario Lemieux received a serious offer from officials in Kansas City on Thursday.
Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, operator of the Sprint Center, has offered the Penguins a chance to play rent free and be equal managing partners in the new arena if Lemieux moves the club to the Missouri city.
The $276-million US Sprint Center is scheduled to open in October in time forthe nextNHL season.
Anschutz officials, including former Penguins star Luc Robitaille, met Wednesday and Thursday with Lemieux, co-owner Ron Burkle and other team representatives.
"We are not trying to steal the Penguins," Leiweke said. "We have been very respectful of their process. We understand that this is Pittsburgh's to lose, and we respect that."
Lemieux returned to Pittsburgh later in the day and met with a group of officials that includedPennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. He called the meeting "very positive," but was equivocal about what would happen next.
"Hopefully, we'll move forward in the next week or so and really evaluate where we're going, but I'm very pleased with both meetings today," Lemieux said. "I've always been very optimistic [about staying in Pittsburgh]. I've been here for 20-some years.
"But we have to evaluate all of our options and that's why we went to Kansas City to look at what they had to offer."
The Penguins' future in Pittsburgh was thrown into doubt after Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie withdrew his offer to buy the club and the state Gaming Control Board denied Isle of Capri Casino Inc. a slots licence last month.
Isle of Capri was one of several candidates bidding for a casino licence for a new downtown Pittsburgh slot-machine parlour.
The company had agreed that if it got the licence, it would build a $290-million US arena to replace the 45-year-old Mellon Arena, the oldest facility in the NHL.
Lemieux and Burkle were scheduled to meet Thursday with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Allegheny County chief executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl about building a new arena in Pittsburgh.
KC takes second shot at NHL
Should the team move to Kansas City, it would be the city's second time with an NHL franchise. The Kansas City Scouts lasted from 1974-76 before relocating to Colorado.
"They have told us they will make a decision within 30 days," Leiweke said. "We will know within 30 days whether they are going to work out their issues in Pittsburgh and get an arena built, or whether they will ask the NHL for permission to move the team to Kansas City."
Finding a permanent tenant, either in the NHL or NBA, has been a priority for Kansas City. Officials are counting on the Sprint Center and an adjoining entertainment district to anchor revitalization efforts.
William (Boots) Del Biaggio III, the venture capitalist who has an agreement with Sprint Center management to own any NHL team that relocates to Kansas City, already co-owns a minor-league hockey team with Lemieux.
Other cities that have expressed interest in the Penguins include Houston, Winnipeg, Portland, Ore., and possibly Oklahoma City.