A bad-weather February morning would keep most people inside.
It certainly didn’t keep supporters of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Isle of Capri proposal to acquire Pittsburgh’s forthcoming slots license.
Throngs of Penguins fans and supporters of the plan to redevelop Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill District and build a $290 million arena at no cost to taxpayers put forth by the Penguins and Isle of Capri, known as Pittsburgh First, braved the rain and cold to attend a spirited rally outside of Mellon Arena Gate 3 on Saturday afternoon.
“The spirits of hockey families and hockey people are completely different than the spirits of anyone else. We’re excited about this and we know it’s going to be successful in the long run,” said Ed Sam, the commissioner of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, which oversees high school hockey in Western and Central Pa. “We’re excited about the people that are here.”
The rally, organized by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League and SlotsForMario.com, featured a series of speakers, including elected officials such as state Sen. Jane Orie and state Rep. Frank LaGrotta.
“I think this is more than just the people who are here supporting Mario or just supporting the Penguins. I think the people here are supporting Pittsburgh,” LaGrotta said. “I think the people here are living examples of what it meant to this region when we had the courage in the legislature to buck the tide and build the stadium across the river that kept the Steelers here. I think everybody in this weekend and in the last month has seen what that means to Pittsburgh.
“I get a kick out of listening to the President talk so much about patriotism, so I looked up the definition of patriotism and it means to be loyal to your country, but also to your community,” he continued. “I think this [rally] is a patriotic act on the part of the people of Pittsburgh. It’s Western Pennsylvania patriotism.”
This is the first rally organized between the PIHL and SlotsForMario.com, who both have online petitions for supporters of the Penguins and Isle of Capri plan to fund a new arena and revitalize the Lower Hill District at no taxpayer cost.
“This is the start. This is not the end of the journey – this is the first step of the journey. We have to keep going and keep contacting the right people, whether they are politicians or other people, it doesn’t matter. We have to keep going and make sure this happens and works,” Sam said. “Now is the time to stand up. You can’t wait until next week or do something later. It needs to be done right now. There is no Plan B. We can’t have a Plan B. Plan A is the slots casino. Plan A is the Isle of Capri. Plan A is building a new arena. Plan A is supporting the PIHL by supporting the Penguins. It has to get done.”
LaGrotta points out that, if a new arena is not built for the Penguins and they leave Pittsburgh once their Mellon Arena lease expires in 2007, the economic impact will be felt drastically throughout the tri-state area – not just in Pittsburgh.
“I don’t represent Pittsburgh; I come from Lawrence County and I know what it means in Lawrence County and Beaver and Butler counties,” he said. “I think the people here are here to say, ‘You know what, let’s not lose a community asset – an indoor arena where we can have hockey and have concerts and we can watch Sidney Crosby grow up and we can pay to watch Sidney Crosby grow up and provide millions in amusement tax revenue to [Pittsburgh] Mayor [Bob] O’Connor and the City of Pittsburgh. And, millions in county taxes to County Executive [Dan] Onorato and the County of Allegheny. This is not just about slots.’ I am the chairman of the Tourism and Recreational Committee in the House and Pennsylvania’s No. 1 industry is tourism. This is a community asset – a new arena being built and given to the city. It’s a jewel.
“I am here because I support Pittsburgh; I support the county and I support Western Pennsylvania,” he continued. “I have seen in my 20 years in the legislature how important it is for government to be proactive in things like this.”
All parties encourage activism among supporters of the Pittsburgh First plan to fund a new arena at no taxpayer cost to let their voices be heard.
“If this plan has a chance of being successful, the only way it’s going to be successful is if people like this continue to show up and write to their legislators, senators, governor and other elected officials and tell them, ‘I support Pittsburgh. I support the Penguins. I support Western Pennsylvania,’” LaGrotta said. “This is where I was born. This is where I am from. This is where I intend to die, but this is what we’re about – we’re about community.
“The Steelers’ run is only feeding community pride. It’s all Steelers all the time right now, which it should be. Once that subsides and once people sit down and start to look at the proposals, they are going to realize this is a home-grown proposal. This is a proposal that is good for the whole city and this is a proposal that deserves positive consideration from the gaming board.”
In addition, Mike Mooney, one of the co-founders of SlotsForMario.com, says supporters of this plan can have their voices heard in person when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has public hearings in regards to its slots license proposals on April 18-19 at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh.
“It’s great to see a ton of people here. It’s unbelievable. Everyone here loves the Penguins and wants to keep them here. They know the Penguins are good for Pittsburgh, good for the families of Pittsburgh, for the kids of Pittsburgh and for the economy of Pittsburgh. Hopefully, that’s the point we get across,” he said. “What we want to do is to get everyone out to the April 18th and 19th meetings with the Gaming Control Board and let them know exactly what we need and what we want here in Pittsburgh.”
Mooney said the petition on SlotsForMario.com continues to grow each day.
“It’s unbelievable seeing the force of people grow,” he said. “This week, we got over 3,000 more signatures in three or four days this week. We need as many people possible to get on SlotsForMario.com and sign our petition and voice their support so we can have a bigger document to hand to the Gaming Control Board on the 18th and 19th.”
The PIHL has a similar petition on its site and Sam is happy to see the support grow.
“It’s just been great. All the support from SlotsForMario.com and all the support from the associations in the PIHL has been just wonderful,” he said. “We have to keep it going and we will keep it going. We won’t give up.”