(Long Island, N.Y.) For all the uncertainties and unanswered questions that surround the Islanders arena situation, we do know one thing. 2015 is the magic year either way this goes. The team’s current lease with SMG expires then and the current plans to build a new building have that year as a target date for a grand opening.
That has made threatening to move a gun with blanks instead of Long Island shaking in their boots about the thought and prospect of losing their only major league sports franchise. No matter how much owner Charles Wang is wooed by Kansas City, Saskatchewan or Montreal, the reality of the Islanders actually moving any time soon is not realistic.
Any potential new city and/or owner would have to pay ransom to get the team out of the lease and coupled with the exorbitant price of getting a transplanted franchise off the ground, it would be difficult to expect any extra capital put aside to pay SMG off. Especially in these shaky economic times that we are experiencing.
So that leaves a lot less leverage for Wang to get what he needs out of the town of Hempstead and Nassau County. He already has stated that he would foot the bill for a new arena but wanted it to be the crown jewel of his Lighthouse Project. That was turned down due to the cost of the rest of the development and now a slimmed down version is on the table.
Wang has made it perfectly clear that he intends to stay on Long Island and that it will be very difficult for the team to contend without an upgrade of their home. Potential free agents have walked away from good offers from general manager Garth Snow because of the condition of the facilities. The Nassau Coliseum is the oldest building in the NHL and looks every bit its age.
This was the theme at what could be described as a pep rally on Wednesday at the Coliseum, where local politicians joined team personnel to announce the latest plan to finally get this done. Nassau County executive Edward Mangano joined Wang in leading the ‘dog and pony show’ that comes down to an August 1 vote by the residents of Nassau County to approve a $400 million bond referendum.
Of that amount, there is $50 million allotted for a minor league baseball stadium, which was also included in the original Lighthouse budget. Just a guess here, but that seems like a decoy that will be pulled before this goes to a vote. Kind of like a coupon the day of the sale. Back then, there was talk of Fred Wilpon placing a Mets farm team in Nassau at the proposed ballpark, but Bernie Madoff has made that impossible. The Mets cannot even afford the big league team right now, so throwing money into, let’s say a Double-A club, wouldn’t make much sense.
Then there was chatter about another Atlantic League team coming there as a local rival of the Long Island Ducks. But expansion is the last thing that the independent minor league needs right now. They have had trouble maintaining eight teams to balance out the two divisions and this year, the Road Warriors are back in action just to make an even number.
So when you really sit back and think of this thing logically, there is no rush to placate the Islanders with expensive new surroundings. Sure, in a perfect situation that would be ideal. Citi Field, a new Yankee Stadium, the new Meadowlands, the Prudential Center, and Red Bull Arena have been erected and even Madison Square Garden is getting a facelift. Why should the Islanders be left out in the cold?
If ground had not been broken on all of the aforementioned places, then they, too, may have been put on the back burner. The economy fell after everything had been put in place for the other teams and the owners themselves paid much of the costs, without a lot of help from the taxpayers.
Hopefully this does happen and the Islanders remain where they were born and belong. So let’s enjoy the next four years however it turns out.