Hartford man top bidder for Penguins
Samuel Fingold seen as leading suitor

Saturday, July 22, 2006
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Samuel Fingold, a real estate developer from Hartford, Conn., has emerged as the leading candidate to buy the Penguins and could sign a letter of intent within days to negotiate a deal.

Samuel Fingold: A leading suitor for the Penguins franchise.
Mr. Fingold has the highest offer of the four active bidders, a figure of around $175 million, sources with knowledge of the negotiation process told the Post-Gazette. At least one other bidder, believed to be Lawrence Gottesdiener, may still attempt to outbid him, a source said.

The letter of intent would give Mr. Fingold exclusive rights to negotiate with the hockey club over a period of time, probably 30 days.

Mr. Fingold, 34, grew up a hockey fan in Toronto. He has lived in Hartford for several years and owns Kenyon Investments, a real estate company.

He is pursuing the Penguins as a family venture with his father, David, and his younger brother, Michael.

David and Michael Fingold, both of Toronto, also are in real estate. David Fingold has been involved in multiple real estate projects in Canada and the United States, perhaps the best known being a major condominium development called Chedington in Toronto.

The other three active bidders are Mr. Gottesdiener, a Boston area businessman who has several real estate ventures in Hartford; New York businessman Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Corp.; and Ohio businessman Jim Renacci, a Ringgold High School graduate who owns an Arena Football team in Columbus.

The Penguins would like to finalize a deal by the start of the season in October. That would mean closing on the sale, getting NHL approval and taking care of other details.

The club's current top officials -- including Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, a part owner and former CEO -- have expressed an interest in keeping the team in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Fingold has ties to Kansas City, which is looking for an NHL or NBA tenant for its new Sprint Center. As recently as a month ago, he indicated he was bidding for the team with an eye toward moving it to Kansas City, but has since said he thinks it might be viable to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

In addition, several factors seem to indicate that the team will stay put, unless plans fall apart for a new facility that would replace outdated Mellon Arena.

The new owner of the team will inherit an agreement with gaming company Isle of Capri, which has pledged $290 million toward construction of a new arena if it gets the city's slots license.

If one of the other two finalists for the slots license, Forest City and PITG Gaming, get the license, state and local officials have put together an alternative plan for arena funding. Both have committed to provide $7.5 million a year for 30 years for arena construction.

The pledges are a cornerstone of Gov. Ed Rendell's so-called $315 million Plan B to build a new arena in Pittsburgh.

Under its current setup, which would go into effect if Isle of Capri is not awarded a slots license, the Penguins would make an $8.5 million payment toward a new arena, plus $4.1 million per year for 30 years. In addition to the $7.5 million annual contributions from the winning gaming campany, the state would provide $7 million per year from a slots-backed development fund.

The state also would contribute $26.5 million for site acquisition and preparation, which would be paid back once slots revenues begin rolling in.

As long as one of those two possibilities for building an arena is viable, it's doubtful the NHL will allow the team to be relocated. League bylaws list a multitude of conditions that must be met in order for a team to be moved, including whether there are reasonable prospects for viability and whether there are efforts by the community and officials to attain viability.

The state of Mellon Arena, built in the early 1960s, has been major financial drain for the Penguins, who say they are losing millions of dollars a year playing there.

Officials hope to break ground for the new arena next year and have it open in 2009.

Of the other three active bidders, Mr. Murstein and Mr. Renacci have said they were solely interested in keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Mr. Gottesdiener has indicated he would be willing to operate the Penguins here but also has expressed an interest in getting an NHL team for Hartford, where there are hopes for a new arena.

An original fifth bidder, a secretive group from Canada, was on the verge of signing a letter of intent a week ago after making a bid of about $175 million.

That group withdrew, apparently because it either was intent on moving the Penguins or believed that even if it tried to operate the Penguins in Pittsburgh, it would not have the option of moving if things got financially strained.

The St. Louis Blues, who have a modern facility, were sold this summer for $150 million, and that included a lease at Savvis Center.