(Long Island, N.Y.) “My heart is still on Long Island. I love Long Island. This is where the Islanders belong. Let’s play hockey.”
The crescendo of the statement released by New York Islanders owner Charles Wang is a microcosm of what he has been trying to convey all along. He does not want to move the team anywhere but also is a shrewd businessman. Annual years finishing in the red can only last so long, even for someone as wealthy as he.
The sticking point in the negotiations with the Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray has been the vastness of the project, which includes much more than a refurbished Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The entire $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project has been scaled down and modified since the original plans were first presented years ago, but still apparently not enough to get it done.
Although Wang had set what seems like an infinite amount of deadlines that have come and gone, the two sides are still in negotiations. “There are no plans to abandon this project which is so vital to the future of Nassau County and Long Island as a whole,” he continued in the statement.
The proposed Lighthouse Project includes a new home for the NY Islanders with a redeveloped Coliseum, twin towers 31-stories tall that would house Long Islands first five-star hotel overlooking: a conference center, offices, homes and a Celebration Plaza larger than New Yorks Bryant Park.
The latest news is that a lease has been negotiated to allow town officials more time to make a decision on the zoning. There was no time limit specified so what that basically means is that Wang may have over estimated the demand for his team in other cities.
There appears to be options, but how solid they are remains to be seen. Wang has even flirted with the idea of moving the team to Suffolk County. The top four mentioned have been:
1 – KANSAS CITY – The former location of the NHL Scouts is doing their best to lure a team back to Missouri. They built an arena with the anticipation of rolling out the red carpet and have wooed the Islanders, albeit behind the scenes. Wang may have lost some of his negotiating power with Murray when the much-anticipated preseason game in K.C. versus the Kings only attracted 9,792 fans – basically half capacity. Trying to spin it in a positive light, it was said that the light crowd may have been attributed to the fact that American League Cy Young candidate was pitching for the under-.500 Royals that same evening at Kaufman Stadium, which also held their T-Shirt Tuesday promotional giveaway.
2 – TORONTO – It may be Maple Leaf country, but that town can certainly support a second team. This is not something that should be scoffed at, especially after the Phoenix Coyotes seem to be staying put in the desert after overtures were made that the former Winnipeg Jets were Canada-bound. The NHL lost a lot of its steam when teams relocated from Canadian cities to places like Phoenix and Colorado. Placing expansion teams in the south (Florida, Tampa Bay, Charlotte and Atlanta) was not the brightest idea, either. Getting back to the grass roots of the sport north of the border is a sound business decision for the league as a whole.
3 – BROOKLYN – The Atlantic Yards project may be a pipedream, but until it is dead and buried there is still a possibility it will be erected. Perhaps the Nets arena will look more attractive if there is a hockey team in place to join them. How ironic would that be? When the Coliseum was first built for the Islanders, the Nets were the redheaded stepchildren playing second banana.
4 – SASKATCHEWAN – The Islanders held training camp in Saskatoon and also played two exhibition games at the Credit Union Center. Not exactly your quintessential NHL city, but who would have guessed that Edmonton would eventually become a dynasty town when the Oilers first joined the NHL as part of the WHA merger?
Wang does desire to stay put, as it is his best option. Kansas City may be intriguing but not overwhelmingly impressive. It appears that he is working to make anything happen to keep the team on The Island, but appears weak by extending his self-proposed deadlines.
It will all be worth it if some kind of compromise is made. The Islanders and their illustrious history belong in one place and one place only, and that is not on the Canadian prairie, downtown Kansas City, the Brooklyn rail yards or Ontario.