The Pittsburgh Penguins introduced Isle of Capri Casinos and Nationwide Realty as their partners Tuesday in an exciting, billion-dollar development proposal that includes the construction of a new multi-purpose arena at no cost to the taxpayers.
Isle of Capri will apply for the Pittsburgh slots license, and, if successful, will pledge $290 million in slots profits to fully fund the construction of a new arena that will keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh for the long-term.
Under the plan, Nationwide Realty will oversee the development of 28 acres where Mellon Arena and its accompanying parking lots now stand.
The three entities will work together, along with numerous community groups, under the banner of “Pittsburgh First.”
“We’re going to create a tremendous opportunity in this city and put the people of Pittsburgh first,” said Penguins president Ken Sawyer. “It’s going to be well over a billion-dollar project. We’re talking about a new arena, a casino, and the redevelopment of 28 acres where the old arena sits now. This is a project that will create literally thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of new tax revenue. It’s an exciting day for us.”
For years, since Mario Lemieux’s ownership group bought the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999, team officials have heard repeatedly that there was no local public money available to help fund the construction of an arena.
Sawyer said the key to the “Pittsburgh First” plan is that the Penguins and their partners have accepted the challenge and come up with a solution for a privately-funded arena.
“We have done this in the backdrop of knowing and hearing that no one has any money from the public sector for an arena,” Sawyer said. “That’s no small challenge. But, in putting the people of Pittsburgh first, we have come up with a way to pay for the entire cost of building a new arena – not a nickel of taxpayer money will go into the building of the arena.”
Sawyer also made it clear that neither the Penguins nor Lemieux will profit from any slots revenues.
“The Penguins will hold no economic interests in the casino or the gaming application,” he said. “We are not equity holders – we do not have a share of the profits. We have had opportunities for that in talking with our gaming companies, as well as Isle of Capri, but it was our decision to make sure the maximum can be provided for a new arena. We just want a place to play.”
Tim Hinkley, president of Isle of Capri, introduced his company to the assembled media and underscored the Isle’s commitment to Pittsburgh and the Penguins.
“The Isle brand is something that is well-known throughout the industry,” he said. “We do a little over $1.1 billion in gaming revenue and we serve about 20 million customers. Our brand is fun.
“Part of our deal here is that monies we put up will be put toward this new arena so you don’t have to tap into public funds to be able to do it. It’s important for this community to understand our commitment to them. Our goal is bigger than operating just the best casino. This catalyst for development is incredibly important. We’re a company that has given back to the community. We also donate our time and efforts.
“This is a win-win situation for the city, the Penguins, for the entire state and region, plus the local neighborhoods as well as the Isle of Capri.”
Examples of Nationwide’s other work in Pittsburgh include the Waterfront development in Homestead, the new apartments on Carson Street on the South Side and the North Shore project. Brian Ellis, president and CEO of Nationwide Realty Investments, said his company controls about one billion dollars in real estate investment across the country, including offices, retail, residential, apartments, condominiums and hotels. Intriguingly, Nationwide oversaw the recent arena district development in Columbus.
Also represented at the press conference and pledging their support for the project were Jack Brooks of the local carpenters’ union; Katherine Klaber, executive vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development; and the Rev. James Simms, former city council representative and member of the city oversight board, speaking on behalf of the Lower Hill District community.
Said Brooks, speaking for the carpenters, “As we all know, this is the time for giving, and I can think of no greater gift for this city, and for southwestern Pennsylvania, than this development plan unveiled today. Creating new housing, offices and retail quarters – without public funding – should make everyone’s holiday season a lot brighter. All of these projects mean new jobs and new job opportunities for thousands of local workers and suppliers.”
Klaber noted the exceptional opportunity being offered to the people of Pittsburgh and the surrounding region.
“The project being announced is about economic growth in Pittsburgh, about attracting companies to Pittsburgh that have a demonstrated commitment to the well-being of our region,” she said. “This is about bringing good new jobs and expanding the tax base to ease the burden on individual taxpayers.
“The Penguins have brought here to the table an idea that calls for private funding for a new multi-purpose arena, and that means that the state money that would have been used for this project can be used for other important purposes in the region.”
The Rev. Simms spoke eloquently about a revitalization of the Lower Hill – envisioning the redevelopment of the 28 acres where Mellon Arena and its parking lots now stand.
“Forty years ago, with the power of eminent domain and urban renewal, the Lower Hill was devastated,” he said. “The community was dislodged. We have an opportunity today to correct that.
“Today, we have an opportunity to tear down an arena and rebuild a community.”