Aug 2, 2011

Arena: Referendum Fails at 57%, Now What?

Last night, voters of Nassau County decided not to invest $400 million for the creation of a new Nassau Coliseum, minor league ballpark, and track and field complex. Of the over 140,000 votes cast yesterday, only 43% were yes votes. 

Today, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano announced he is opening up an RFP process. Before putting out an official RFP, ideas for what to do with the property must be sent to Mr. Mangano's office by Friday, August 12, just ten days away. It is unknown if Charles Wang will put in his idea for the property (otherwise known as The Lighthouse, or a portion of it), but Wang is expected to make a statement on Wednesday according to ESPN.

CH: Obviously, this is a crushing blow. Not only did the referendum lose, it got demolished by over 20,000 votes. Clearly, the Islanders are in an incredibly dire situation at this point. There is no certainty about anything past 2015, Charles Wang is seemingly out of options in Nassau County, and the fans are left wondering "what now?"

As a group, Islander fans did an amazing job promoting this vote. They got over 65,000 YES votes, which in a normal special election in Nassau County should have been enough to win. However, that was not the case as it came out the Democrats sent out "robo-messages" to the senior citizen demographic, of who they were sure would mostly vote no. Either way, Islander fans proved again that they are one of the most passionate in the NHL. Every single fan who voted or brought people to the polls should be extremely proud of themselves.

But now for the real question: what now? Now, it is time to seriously look elsewhere. Both Queens and Brooklyn have came out in the last two days saying they would love to have the Islanders. Charles Wang is best off publicly negotiating with these municipalities, as it may be the only way for Nassau County to get their act together regarding the future of the team. So far, Nassau County has stalled and stalled as we inch closer to 2015. There is little time, maybe a year, for the Islanders to sign off on a new lease before the team will be left in a bind regarding where they will play the 2015-16 season.

That said, today brought new opportunity to those who believe the team should stay in Nassau County. Ed Mangano announced that he is opening a proposal stage for which developers can send to his office their plan to redevelop the Nassau Coliseum site. These proposals are due on August 12, just ten days from today, before the process will turn to an RFP. We have no idea if Charles Wang will send in a proposal, but it is hard to believe that he would just not take part. As he has said all along, he has to explore all of his options. That includes this - Nassau County is still an option for Charles Wang and the New York Islanders. For now.

Coincidentally (or not?), the Willets Point deadline in Queens was moved back from August 15 to September 9 over the past week, according to Randi Marshall. You can read into whether the Nassau deadline was expedited or not, but it is my opinion that none of this is any coincidence. I would wait to jump off any ledges, at least for another month. If Wang and the Islanders are not involved in either of these proposal stages, I agree it may be time to start the freakout. But for now, we must wait and see.

There is also the Brooklyn option, which while it seems less likely, it also may be the most realistic at this point. The reason for that is, of course, the fact that they are currently building a brand new building for the NBA's Nets. The building is fit for professional hockey, but can only sit 14,500 people. That should not be a worry, as standing room only tickets could easily bring that number up to an acceptable NHL standard - at least that of the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. The question there is if Charles Wang would like to be a second tenant. And of course, a decision on Brooklyn would not have to come for a few years.

Suffolk County remains an option as well, but really only at the Pilgrim State location. As the team moves east, interest draws less - that includes time to get to the arena and corporate sponsorship. Still, it is a local option and cannot be discounted at this point.

Wang cannot put all of his eggs in one basket anymore. He needs to negotiate with anyone who will listen. Thinks will undoubtedly look bleak at times, but that is par for the course in dealing with a situation like this. We should find out soon what the next step in this saga is - but make no mistake, with four years left we are far from done. For the sake of argument, after hearing today's news from Nassau County, Queens, and Brooklyn, I sincerely doubt the Islanders will end up moving out of state. However, you can never say never. Any local option is one worth exploring.

The fans' passion never has waned and it won't. Islander fans will still fight to keep the team here no matter what. That is something you can take to the bank.

AT: Misinformation won. Apparently, the Democrats went forth with a stealth campaign and sent out 100K robocalls to senior citizens trying to push forward the $58 tax increase number. It is time to put an end to these shenanigans. The county ither have give Charles a concrete, solidified option for a reworked Lighthouse with a guarantee, or Charles should move the team to Queens. It is that simple. We shall see on Wednesday. I would imagine Charles is planning on saying something at least moderately concrete to stop Islander fans from jumping off a cliff.

While there is this new opportunity with the RFP process, Wang has tried this before. At this point, after 5+ years of trying to get first a privately funded and then a publicly funded arena, it's time for Wang to put up the big guns. Start making threats and realistic PR moves to show he is dedicated to Queens. In the Siena poll released before the vote, most said they wanted the Islanders, just not the bill of a publicly financed arena. Well, it's time to put up or shut up, Nassau County.

As for Queens, I do at this point believe it is the most likely option. You have the all-but-official partnership between the Isles and Mets that has been active for years, you have a very reliable location that is still very reachable by car, LIRR and NYC transportation, a location that is still geographically part of Long Island, and an area that seems to really want the Islanders. Having a team play all year would be huge for income, especially with a team on the rise like the Isles.

Brooklyn is certainly an option, but I see it as more of a last ditch option. The Islanders have almost always been the only tenant in their arena, and I would imagine Wang wants things to stay the same. Yet, he still loves Long Island as much as anyone, and I'm sure he would consider it if absolutely necessary.

On behalf of Carey and myself, we would also like to extend a HUGE thank you for those who really helped us with the social media push on the "VOTE YES" page on Facebook. It is because of you that this vote wasn't a complete and total disaster and it is because of you that you affirmed my faith that there are people who realized that this wasn't just about hockey, it was about Long Island. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Not 'till the fat lady sings.

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