Aug 17, 2011

Arena: What Comes Next?

It's been a little over two weeks since the August 1 referendum was handily defeated. Since then, Nassau County has put out the start of an RFP process (Mangano was not apparently happy with the results). Three local municipalities - Brooklyn, Queens, and Suffolk County - have publicly expressed their interest in becoming the new home of the New York Islanders. And all the while, Islander fans are left wondering what comes next. 

Photo Credit: Newsday
CH: To be honest, it is hard to really determine the answer to that question. The Islanders certainly have local options, and it is important to remember that because come 2015 if there is still no answer, there will be blame to go around if the team leaves New York state (or even the Long Island landmass). To be honest, they have zero reason to leave the area. But one has to wonder what is going through the mind of owner Charles Wang right now.

Wang seems steadfast in trying to make it work with Nassau County. On one hand, the loyalty he has shown the Islanders' home for almost 40 years is admirable. But on the other hand, you have to wonder why. Wang has been at this for close to ten years, and we are left in an almost identical situation as we were in year 1 - except for the 800 pound elephant in the room. That is, the lease is expiring in four years, and counting.

I think it is certainly possible the Islanders come to some sort of solution in Nassau County. Whether it's getting in bed with the enemy (ABLI) or some sort of tax increase that the County imposes without bonding (very unlikely), it can be done. But Wang should not sit around and wait for that to happen. To be honest, he cannot wait. If Wang is true to his words, he is out of Nassau. He should be publicly courting other local municipalities.

To start, there is Queens. The RFP for the Willets Point project was pushed back to September 9. Wang could partner up with another developer to build a mini-Lighthouse in Queens. To go along with that, there is plenty of space in the Citi Field parking lot to build a hockey arena. This would make the Willets Point-Mets area a year round destination, which is exactly what the Lighthouse project was meant to be. There is already zoning for an arena in the parking lot, and if the Mets could benefit from it, they would not be any sort of roadblock to stop it. The advantages to Queens are plenty: corporate support, accessibility from New York City and Long Island alike, partnership with one of the MLB's most valuable franchises, and increased exposure all around.

Of course, a second Long Island proper option is Suffolk County. The Heartland Project in Brentwood is going into the final stages of planning and *could* be ready to go in the near future. If the Wolkoff's want to involve Wang and the Islanders, a partnership could be formed. Steve Levy, Suffolk's lame duck County Executive has already stated he has had very preliminary discussions with Wang about moving the team one county east.

But can Suffolk work? Absolutely, if it is in Brentwood. Yes, it is about 30 minutes east of Uniondale. But much of the Islanders fanbase comes from Long Island proper. For the commuters, I would recommend moving game start times back a half hour to 7:30, but it would really be no different than operating out of Nassau County. There would be similar corporate support, a similar culture and fanbase, and a retention of "Long Island's team." It's an option that should seriously be explored.

Finally, there is Brooklyn, which is a very interesting case. To start, Brooklyn is the only municipality with a new arena in the midst of construction. However, while it can fit a hockey rink, only 14,500 seats will be open for viewing, many of which will have obstructed views. Secondly, it is the most inaccessible area on Long Island for Nassau and Suffolk residents to get to. Long Islanders like to drive places, and getting to Brooklyn in the middle of rush hour would not be high on anyone's list. However, the fact of the matter is that they are constructing an arena and it is a viable place for the Islanders due to that corporate support and increased exposure. But it should be treated only as a last resort: either Brooklyn or out of state. I take Brooklyn.

Overall, Wang and the Islanders have options. It's just a matter of actually exploring them. And if he does, the Islanders can put the pressure on Nassau and hopefully come to a conclusion once and for all.

AT: I feel that at this point, Nassau is done unless they come up with a total sweetheart deal for Wang. With Murray as the TOH supervisor, it's very difficult to see that happening in time for the Islanders. After both public and private options were denied, it's time for Wang to puff out his chest and show Nassau he means business. Clearly, the incompetency of the government has gotten to an all time high, and we as fans can not and should not stand for it, nor should Wang as the owner. It's put up or shut up time, Nassau County. Do you want the only professional team you will ever have to stay?

Suffolk is definitely a possibility, though the concern of corporate support as mentioned is definitely one that should be heavily looked into before any real plans are submitted. As a Suffolk resident I would gladly welcome the Islanders, I'm just not sure if it's the most economically viable, especially if we have a losing team. I don't really think people traveling a little extra if they're in Nassau would be that much of a concern if the start times are moved out and if people are dedicated to the team. Plenty of people make it to Mets, Yankees and Ranger games on a pretty constant basis even on weekdays during heavy work season, so I don't think it would be that much of a problem. Suffolk also keeps the Islanders on Long Island, which is great just in terms of pride. The Heartland project is a very, very large project, so if something solid can come out of it, it'd be fantastic.

Queens is most definitely an option and seems to be openly courting the Isles coming west, and as with Suffolk I don't think travel would be that much of a problem, and people would adjust just find. Corporate support should and probably would be fantastic and you'd be in a great and convenient location. There's just one problem with this, however... Queens is not Long Island. Geographically, sure.. but if I'm recalling the logo correctly, Queens isn't even on the logo, nor is Brooklyn. While I personally wouldn't really care as my beloved New York Jets don't even play in New York, I know many fans would be very upset by the "Islanders" essentially leaving "Long Island". Queens would be a great solution economically and for the long run, but I simply have to question if any fans would lose some of their "fandom" so to speak if Queens were to be the option. Yet, as Carey mentioned, if it's between Brooklyn, Queens or out of state, I take the former two options ten times out of ten.

Brooklyn however I do not see as a viable option. Yes, there is an arena pretty much almost completed, but the occupancy is low for hockey, Wang would be splitting tenancy with another owner, and getting there for Long Island residents would be a major hassle. It simply does not seem to line up. I would however be completely fine with the Islanders staying there for a season while a new arena is being built in Nassau, Suffolk or Queens. Besides that, it'd be very difficult for me to jump on the Brooklyn bandwagon unless the only other option was out of state.

We definitely need to hear something soon. I know Wang doesn't want the players to be distracted from arena business, but we as fans are VERY distracted. Many fans are still very upset about the vote, and while personally I will root as hard as I ever did this year for the team, I know there are fans who think this is the end and may be much less enthused. I really hope there's something going on behind the scenes. Time is ticking away, and 2015 will be here before we know it.

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