What are the options for the Islanders to get an arena in New York? This has been one of the biggest questions on Islander fans minds everywhere, since August 1st. This article will examine the four local options that the Islanders have in New York: Nassau County, Queens, Brooklyn, and Suffolk County.
Nassau County is the current home of the New York Islanders and the team has been trying to get a new venue here for over two decades now and several ownership groups. Charles Wang has tried two different attempts himself and was turned down both times. His first attempt was a fully privately financed mixed used development known as the Lighthouse Project. The Town of Hempstead, which controls the zoning of the Nassau Hub (the parcel of land the Nassau Coliseum is on), rejected it. Their reason was that the project was too dense and would add too much traffic. Even though the county asked for a project that size and approved Wang’s RFP there was nothing they could do to prevent it. Wang’s next attempt was a public private partnership, where the county and he would split the cost of the arena. The residents of Nassau County voted no to the partnership on August 1st.
Now that we are caught up on our arena history, where do we stand today with Nassau? There has been no movement on the arena issue in Nassau. The biggest piece of news out of Nassau was a legislative meeting on February 14th, which was nothing more than a dog and pony show. Ed Mangano has said that he will give Wang first shot to offer a new development for the hub, but there is one major problem with that Wang already knows that the current town zoning is unprofitable with an arena in it. For Nassau County to keep the team either the town of Hempstead has to be willing to increase the zoning, or Ed Mangano is going have to find a way to get public money to pay for part of the project.
Since the News about the Islanders playing a preseason game at the Barcalys Center on October 2nd came out, Brooklyn has become the sexy pick for where the Islanders will land. Brooklyn does have one major advantage over the other local option, which is a brand new state of the art arena. However, this arena isn’t without its flaws. It will have a limited capacity for hockey at 14,500, and a weird layout for hockey resembling a horseshoe. Even with the arena flaws this does seem like the most likely and best option at the moment to keep the team in New York. The key will be the numbers. Can Wang get a favorable lease, and part of the Atlantic Yards Development that is going be built around the arena?
There have been two rumor sites for a new arena in Queens, but sadly both look unlikely at the moment. Both sites for the arena would be in Willets Point. The first was having the arena be part of the Willets Point Development project. This project was going tear down the neighborhood chop shops and build a mix used development. It is currently being held up in court by local activist groups, and it may be in legal limbo for a while. The other rumor was that the Wilpons were interested to build a new arena in their parking lot at Citi Field. However, they just got through their own legal troubles and are trying their best just to hold onto the Mets, so they probably aren’t interested in funding another arena at the moment. The key for Queens is to get out of legal trouble.
Suffolk County is the dark horse in this arena situation. The Islanders did have a deal with the county to move the team to Suffolk if the Lighthouse RFP wasn’t picked in 2006, but since the Lighthouse was picked both parties backed away from the deal. Suffolk also made it public after the failed referendum that they were very interested in the Islanders. However, a new County Executive has taken office since. This change of office has to make on wonder if this has impacted talks between the Islanders and the county. Another thing that could impact this option is the fact that Suffolk is facing a 500 million dollar deficit this year. However, the county does have plenty of land to offer the Islanders, and may be more accepting of a Lighthouse style project.
Another possibility for Wang in Suffolk is to team up with the Shinnecock tribe. The Shinnecock is a local tribe that is trying to build multiple casinos on Long Island. There was talk about Wang and the tribe working together at the Belmont racetrack, but that project fell through because of governor Cuomo’s plan for the Aqueduct racetrack. Wang and the Shinnecock even tried to build a casino on a parcel of land that Wang owns in Plainview. However, like the Belmont plan it fell through as well, but this time due to public concerns. Suffolk seems more interested in having the Shinnecock build casinos in their county, so it should be interesting to see if Wang and the tribe will be willing to work together in Suffolk.
As Islander fans we shouldn’t be fighting over which local option comes through, but hoping that one does so we can keep our team. We still have a long way to go in this two decade old issue, and there will be many twist and turns. In the end hopefully we will still get to see John Tavares and the New York Islanders play in New York.