SBD/August 2, 2011/Facilities

Nassau County Voters Reject Financing Plan For New Islanders Arena

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Wang vows to keep Islanders at Nassau Coliseum through lease expiration in '15
Nassau County residents yesterday "rejected a plan to borrow" up to $400M for a new Islanders arena and minor league ballpark, according to Brodsky & Marshall of NEWSDAY. Islanders Owner Charles Wang after yesterday's vote said, "I have to tell you I'm disappointed and to put it very bluntly, I'm heartbroken. I have to tell you it's a very emotional day for us." Wang has said that the team "would leave when its lease expires in 2015 if a new arena is not built, raising the prospect" that the 39-year-old Nassau Coliseum "could close without a major tenant." He said last night, "We're committed to the Nassau Coliseum until 2015. We will honor our lease." Nassau Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs: "The voters clearly have rejected a property tax hike for this purpose. Now it's our obligation to find the solution that enables us to build a new Coliseum with private money, not taxpayer money" (NEWSDAY, 8/2). The AP's Frank Eltman reports with 99% of the vote counted, the referendum failed 56% to 43%. Nassau County residents already are "paying some of the highest property taxes in the country," and voters "were clearly concerned ... with the prospect of higher taxes" (AP, 8/2). Nassau County Board of Elections Commissioner William Biamonte indicated that "despite heated debate on the bond proposal, only about 89,000 voters bothered going to the polls to cast a vote." He said that there are "about 900,000 registered voters" in the county (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/2).

WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Nassau County Exec Edward Mangano last night "vowed to keep the team on Long Island," though he "didn't say how." Mangano: "Remember, this is not an ending, this is a beginning. We will continue to move ahead." In N.Y., Selim Algar notes the vote "could also open the door for a push by the owners of the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn to snatch the Islanders" (N.Y. POST, 8/2). In an interview before the vote, Mangano said that he is "prepared to file a request for proposals for the 77-acre site that would be open to anyone with 'a sustainable vision for the property.'" He said that it "will take up to six weeks to prepare and file the RFP." On Long Island, Randi Marshall reports the request, which "would include the Town of Hempstead's zoning guidelines, would not require the winner to maintain the Coliseum or build a new arena -- and could include ideas that don't involve a sports team." Wang before the vote stressed that he "had no Plan B" (NEWSDAY, 8/2). CBSSPORTS.com's Brian Stubits writes after yesterday's vote, it "seems to be a lock that the team will be looking for greener pastures after 2015 when the lease with Nassau Coliseum runs out." The possibilities of "playing somewhere else on Long Island certainly exist, let alone staying in Nassau County," but it also is possible the Islanders "desert the Island." Wang is "staying mum about the future of the team, instead saying he wants to focus on next season." Whether he "sells or not, though, the team almost certainly won't be playing in Nassau Coliseum after 2015" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/2). YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski writes, "I don't believe the New York Islanders will leave New York. But there's no question their future's a hell of a lot cloudier now" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/2).

ROOM FOR TWO: Barclays Center will have an NHL regulation ice floor with the ability to set up for hockey with some restrictions. The arena is being designed principally for the NBA, leaving about 3,500 seats with obstructed views for hockey, according to industry sources. Most of those seats would be located behind the goals and would not be used for hockey. As such, Barclays Center, an 18,000-seat building for basketball, would be reduced to about 14,500 for hockey, sources said. That setup would make it the smallest arena in the NHL behind MTS Centre, home of the new Winnipeg Jets and a building with slightly more than 15,000 seats for hockey. For the Islanders, moving to Barclays Center would be similar to what happened in Phoenix 15 years ago. The old Winnipeg Jets moved to that city in '96, became the Coyotes and played in America West Arena, now US Airways Center. That arena was designed specifically for the Suns when it opened in '92. Four years later, the Coyotes moved in and played seven-and-a-half seasons in an NBA venue cut down to 16,000 seats for hockey, with a portion of the upper deck obscuring parts of the ice and one goal for several sections of the lower bowl. In December '03, the Coyotes moved to Glendale Arena, now Jobing.com Arena (Don Muret, SportsBusiness Journal).
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