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Associated Press
7/28/2006 10:25:09 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Sam Fingold, a Hartford, Conn.-based commercial real estate broker and longtime hockey fan, signed a letter of intent Friday to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins from Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux's group.

A deal that is expected to be in the $175 million US range was announced after the 34-year-old Fingold met with Lemieux, who bought the two-time Stanley Cup championship team in federal bankruptcy court nearly seven years ago - partly to protect more than $25 million in deferred salary owed him.

Fingold, a Toronto native, has said he might be interested in moving the team to Kansas City and its new arena. But in a statement issued by the team Friday night, he said he now intends to keep them in Pittsburgh as long as a new arena is built there.

"As passionate hockey fans, we are excited about this opportunity to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins," Fingold said. "We agree with the current ownership group that the Penguins should remain in Pittsburgh, and that a new arena is crucial to the team's long-term success.

"So many of the elements for success already are in place here, including a loyal fan base and a spectacular core of young talent, led by Sidney Crosby. The Penguins are an important part of Pittsburgh's sports landscape, and it is our objective to do everything possible to secure their future here," he said.

Under the deal, Fingold's group is obligated to carry out the agreement reached by Lemieux's group with Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., which pledged $290 million to build a new arena if it obtains the license to build a downtown slots parlor. State, county and city officials also are working on a so-called Plan B to fund the arena if the Isle of Capri bid is unsuccessful, and each of the other two finalists for the city's sole slots license have agreed to contribute $7.5 million a year toward a new arena.

Among the groups Fingold outbid was one led by New York taxicab medallion financier Andrew Murstein, who pledged to keep the team in Pittsburgh. Murstein brought Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, and former star quarterback Dan Marino into his group to help boost its viability.

Fingold's group includes two family members, father David and brother Michael, as well as concert promoter Michael Cohl.

"It was encouraging to have so many groups expressing interest in the Penguins during this process, and we are delighted to have Sam Fingold's group sign a letter of intent," Penguins chief executive officer Ken Sawyer said in the team-issued statement. "Sam and his family have a tremendous background in business and investments, and, just as importantly, they have hockey in their blood. We look forward to working with them to complete the purchase agreement and to achieve their goal of keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh for the long term."

ingold's firm, Kenyon Investments, specializes in major renewal and development projects.

Fingold and the Penguins signed a confidentiality agreement, meaning that there will be no further comment until a purchase agreement is reached. If that purchase agreement is completed, the sale would enter the approval stage, a period that could last several months as the NHL reviews the transaction.

While it owned the team, the Lemieux group paid back in full all the money owed by the Penguins before they declared bankruptcy - something that almost never occurs in such bankruptcy cases. Lemieux's primary backer was California businessman Ron Burkle.

During Lemieux's time as owner, the Penguins reached the playoffs twice and Lemieux made a celebrated comeback in December 2000 after having been retired for 44 months. One of the best players in NHL history retired again in January, during a fourth consecutive Penguins losing season, after being diagnosed with an irregular heart beat.
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