County chief: 'Pens need to find private money'

PITTSBURGH -- No local taxes will be used in the construction of a new arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins, said Dan Onorato, the incoming Allegheny County chief executive.

Onorato, scheduled to take office Jan. 2, said that if the team wants a replacement for its current home, Mellon Arena, it will have to seek funding from private sources.

"They need to make the deal work without local tax money," he said.

Mellon is the oldest and second-smallest venue in the NHL. A new arena might cost as much as $280 million.

The Penguins last summer unveiled plans to pay for part of a new arena with $60 million that they would get from a group planning a racetrack near Pittsburgh. The track would house slot machines.

There was no gambling bill included in the recently passed state budget, though Gov. Rendell has said that he expects a gambling bill by February.

Calls to the Penguins were not immediately returned yesterday.

A new facility for the Penguins is still a possibility, but Onorato said team owners will have to be more creative in financing it. He pointed to the privately financed arena in Columbus, Ohio, built for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. The Nationwide insurance company, based in Columbus, footed 90 percent of the $150 million tab.

Onorato pointed to the Pittsburgh region's financial situation and said that it was unrealistic to expect local funding for a new hockey arena.

"The NHL has to get its own fiscal house in order, and the Penguins have to find private money," he said.