The saga is over Islander fans. We now know something that has been a question since the mid 1990's. The New York Islanders, who have called Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum home for 40 years are leaving the aged arena for the brand spanking new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.
We will have some time to contemplate how this is going to change our hockey lives as Islander fans because as of right now, The Islanders have to honor their lease which anchors them to Nassau until 2015.
Shocked? Surprised? Angry?
These are words that I am hearing from a lot long time Islander fans. The anger however is not directed at Islanders owner Charles Wang for the most part. It is directed at those who are squarely to blame for the Islanders moving west. The story begins back in the 1990's as the Islanders were owned by what Islander fans have known as the Gluckstern-Milstien disaster. These guys were the saviors at the time, rescuing the Islanders from John O. Pickett and his absentee ownership as well as the NHL's debacle allowing a scam artist in John Spano to "buy" the team when he could not even afford to buy season tickets.
The Gluckstern-Milstien disaster was basically the Islanders ownership group trying to have the Nassau Coliseum condemned so they could break the lease with Nassau County and try to strong arm the construction of a new coliseum. As we all know, you cannot strong arm your way through Nassau County red tape and Town of Hempstead politics. They moved the Islanders offices out of the building and claimed it was unsafe to inhabit an said the Islanders would not play any games in the arena. They even went so far as to say that the scoreboard was in danger of falling from the ceiling.
Tom Gulotta, the Nassau County Executive at the time called the Islanders owners "pigs at a trough" for trying to strong arm a new arena out of the county. Maybe not the best way to negotiate for a new arena? Once it was clear that the ownership was not going to get what they wanted they immediately gave up and slashed payroll to the bear minimum and put the team on the market again.
Enter Charles Wang and his ex partner Sanjay Kumar and the Islanders have had something they haven't had in what seemed forever. Stable ownership. Not only stable ownership but one with super deep pockets and a desire to work with, not against the powers that be to get what The Islanders and Nassau County needed - a renovated or new Nassau Coliseum.
There is no doubt that Charles Wang bought this team and the Marriott Hotel right next to the arena and other surrounding properties as a means to an end. That end would be the much ballyhooed "Nassau Hub" project. Which has been talked about for many many years as a "destination spot" for Long Islanders to be able to come live, shop or see a show or a sporting event. Charles Wang had grand plans for this project which he had designed and called "The Lighthouse Project". Partnering on the deal with monster real estate developer Rexcorp gave the project a real shot at getting off the ground.
Mr. Wang did not try to force this project on anyone. He did not try to get the tax payers of Nassau County foot the bill. This was going to be a privately financed monster construction project that would have created construction jobs for thousands of workers. It also would have created much needed lower to mid cost housing for singles out of college looking to build a life on Long Island. The Lighthouse project went through several design iterations during the long, drawn out approval process. Ultimately the project was given Nassau County approval. It was given New York State approval. Then it fell to the governing body known as the Town of Hempstead. Surely this would not be an issue, right? Surely they could see the benefits of such a project, right? Surely they would work with Mr. Wang to get this deal done, right? Wrong. Instead of trying to work with Mr. Wang and his Lighthouse project the Town of Hempstead had the audacity to come up with their own vision of what they thought should be built there going so far as to present an artists rendering.
Excuse me? Since when does a publicly elected governing body tell a private developer what he can build? They presented a zoning plan that cut down the project to such a level that not only did Charles Wang not see the value in it, no one else has seen the value in it either. Not one private developer has seen a way they can take the Town of Hempstead's zoning plan and create something that is economically viable.
That ended the Lighthouse project as Mr. Wang saw no further options and killed the project. If you didnt see the writing on the wall there, then I have a bridge to sell you.
But wait. Newly elected Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano has a plan. Why don't we ask the people of Nassau County to foot the bill and we can repay them with the revenue a new arena would bring in! Sounds brilliant right? The people of Nassau have voted themselves thousands of dollars in tax increases every single year in school budgets without anything to show for it other than the school districts saying "vote for the kids". It would have cost the Nassau tax payers a minimum of $12 a year in increases to build the arena. Oh. Wait a minute I said minimum. What about the maximum? The maximum one time tax increase would have been $58. No people that is not a typo. We could have had a new arena built in Nassau County and had our taxes raised a maximum of $58 dollars a year. Not every year, but one time.
No matter how small the amount, the ill informed masses came out to vote against the referendum voting it down 57% to 43%. That people would be the final straw. The main reason people voted against it is because they said Charles Wang is a billionaire. He can afford it. Oh he can afford it? Does that mean he should biuld a $300 million dollar arena that he doesnt own on land he doesnt own? Maybe If you can convince me that anyone would pay money to build something that is not theirs maybe you can get Charles Wang to build me a new kitchen.
The bottom line is that this was the last ditch effort to keep the Islanders in Nassau and it not only failed, it tanked because it showed the short sightedness of a majority of the people who voted.
Enter Brett Ratner and his brand spanking new Barclay's Center, opening its doors and saying hey it isnt perfect but I want you here. They will build the Islanders a state of the art locker room, training facility and give the Islanders the stability they craved in Nassau. They will in one swoop, bring the Islanders the solid foundation that players can look at and say to themselves that is a place I want to play, not a place I go when no one else wants me. No people, those days are coming to a close.
Charles Wang tried everything to do what was best for Nassau County. He spent tens of millions of hos own money keeping the franchise running. He spent tens of millions of dollars on plans and development studies. He spent thousands of hours negotiating the political red tape and politicians empty promises to come up with nothing. All the while this jewel of an arena was growing brighter on the horizon promising everything that Nassau County has failed to deliver.
For the Islander fan who is angry at the situation look at it this way: Charles Wang knew when he bought the team he had a long hard road ahead but all he had was time. He had 15 years on the lease with the County. 12 years later, tens of millions spent, countless hours wasted, countless lies by politicians told the end of the road is here. There is not enough time for the team to get an arena done. Not only that there are no prospects for an arena to be built. The County sent out a Request for Proposals this year and what have they gotten in return. Nothing. The Town of Hempstead's zoning plan makes redevelopment of the 77 acre site a non starter with an arena on the site.
If you want a villain, look at Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead. This is the reason we will be boarding the LIRR to watch the Islanders in 2015. And you know what, we will do it.
To me it comes down to a simple fact. If we are still fans of this franchise after all of the trials, jokes, embarrassments, bad trades, bad contracts, leaky roofs, free agent failures, embarrassing promotions, that ridiculous logo change, Mike Milbury, Neil Smith, and other issues that have surrounded the team if moving 22 miles to the west is a deal breaker, then you were never a true Islander fan to begin with.