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Murstein hoping investment supergroup lands Pens |

Murstein hoping investment supergroup lands Pens

Karen Price And Ron Daparma
| Thursday, June 29, 2006 12:00 a.m

Andrew Murstein is the third-generation owner of a business that’s made a fortune putting taxi cabs on the streets of New York City.

Now Murstein, president of Medallion Financial Corporation, is heading an investment group including homegrown celebrities Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, hoping to buy the Penguins.

“My first goal was to take the company public, and we did that 10 years ago,” said Murstein, a huge sports fan who recently hosted former New York Knicks greats Patrick Ewing and John Starks at Shea Stadium for the Subway Series between the Mets and the Yankees, and includes Hank Aaron on his company’s board of directors.

His second goal was to own a bank, which happened two years ago, Murstein said.

“My third goal was to own a sports team,” he said. “It’s certainly a lot of excitement, but I believe it’s a good investment. Sports teams are like medallions — there are only so many of them, and they usually change hands at a premium.”

Murstein, who turns 42 today, certainly knows his medallions, as in the discs that show that taxi cabs are licensed in cities including New York. His grandfather, Polish immigrant Leon Murstein, bought his first medallion for $10 in New York City in 1937.

Those medallions now sell for $500,000 each, and Medallion Financial Corporation, which both owns medallions and loans cabbies the money to buy them, is worth more than $830 million.

Murstein’s name has been attached over the years to the potential sale of several sports teams, including the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers, the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues and MLS’ Kansas City Wizards.

But Murstein downplayed his interest in buying most of those teams. He said that he has not yet submitted a formal proposal to buy the Penguins, but that he has put down money and has been identified by the NHL as a viable candidate.

“The only other team I seriously looked at was the St. Louis Blues, and in the last five years I’ve only looked at two teams seriously — the Blues and the Penguins,” Murstein said.

His group is one of five serious bidders looking to buy the team from the group led by Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.

“The next step is to wait to hear the groups that they are going to be working with,” Murstein said. “They’re going to limit the field to a couple of potential buyers sometime in the next two weeks.”

Murstein said that he would be the majority owner, with “a half-dozen” limited partners, including Cuban, Marino and Todd Reidbord, Walnut Capital’s co-founder. The native New Yorker also said that his promise to keep the team in Pittsburgh if he is the winning bidder is not contingent on getting a new arena, which is not the case with several other potential buyers.

“I do think it’s important to have the right arena in place if the team wants to be competitive, but it’s not going to be a condition of us buying the team,” Murstein said. “If it takes one year or longer, there’s going to be a new building in Pittsburgh. We’re willing to take that gamble.”

Murstein said he became interested in buying the Penguins even before the team went on the market through his dealings with former New York governor and Medallion board member Mario Cuomo, who knows current Penguins part-owner Ron Burkle.

Murstein established local ties through a friend in the private equity world who was familiar with Reidbord and Walnut Capital in Shadyside.

“The opportunity with the Penguins came up through some contacts I had from New York, who knew that these folks (the Murstein group) were looking at it,” Reidbord said. “They asked me if I would be their local eyes and ears.”

Reidbord was responsible for bringing Cuban on board.

“Mark Cuban and I have known each other since grade school; we grew up together,” Reidbord said. “We lived within a few blocks of each other, in an area (of Mt. Lebanon) called Cedarhurst.”

After being approached by Murstein about buying the Penguins, Reidbord asked Cuban if he’d be interested.

“He said if we liked the deal, and we thought it was an opportunity to keep the team in Pittsburgh, that’s what we are focused on,” Reidbord said.

Reidbord said he and Cuban would have no interest in being investors in the Penguins unless it means keeping the team in Pittsburgh.

“That’s what he’s (Cuban) focused on, and that’s what we’re focused on,” Reidbord said. “That’s why this group appealed to me. This group is 100 percent committed to keeping the team in Pittsburgh.”

Murstein brought Marino on board through another former NFL quarterback and mutual friend, Boomer Esiason. Murstein and Marino discussed the possibility over drinks last week, and Marino confirmed his interest earlier this week.

Marino, who grew up in Oakland, released a statement yesterday confirming his participation in the group.

“Growing up in Pittsburgh, I’ve always been a fan of the Penguins, dating back to the days when the team colors were blue and white,” Marino said. “I know what the Penguins mean to the city and, as a native, I want to do everything I can to help keep them here. I was contacted by Andy Murstein, whose priority is to keep the team in Pittsburgh, and I told him I would be happy to help him in any way I could.”

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