Pens team with gambling company on arena plan

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have partnered with a gambling company in hopes of building a new arena the team says it must have to remain here.

Under the agreement announced Wednesday, if Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. receives the license expected to be awarded next year for a Pittsburgh slots parlor, it will build a $290 million arena.

The company, which owns and operates 15 casinos and a race track, would turn the building over to the city-county agency that operates 44-year-old Mellon Arena, where the Penguins have played since 1967.

As part of Isle of Capri's proposal to acquire the slots license, Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Realty Investors would redevelop the 50-acre site where Mellon Arena sits with retail, residential properties and office buildings.

Nationwide financed Nationwide Arena in Columbus, home of the NHL's Blue Jackets. The total cost of the Pittsburgh project, including the arena, is estimated at about $1 billion.

The partnership represents a change of course for the Penguins, who previously planned to pursue the slots license on their own. Instead, Isle of Capri will seek the license and the Penguins would receive a new arena but no gaming revenues.

The Penguins' announcement comes as city and Allegheny County officials try to find a way to build an arena without using public tax money.

Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said this month there was a "slim chance" the team would stay in Pittsburgh past the 2006-07 season without the new arena he has sought since acquiring the team in 1999. Mellon Arena is the smallest and oldest arena in the NHL.

Isle of Capri owns and operates 15 riverboat, dockside and land-based casinos in 13 locations, most in the South, and the Pompano Park harness track in Florida.