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Volume 20 No. 42
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Will arena quest take Islanders to Brooklyn?

With only three years left on a lease that team officials insist they will not extend, and no deal for a new arena in sight, the New York Islanders’ best option to continue playing in New York in 2015 might be in Brooklyn, at the soon-to-open Barclays Center.

The Islanders’ lease with Nassau County to play in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum expires in 2015. Team owner Charles Wang has maintained that the Islanders will not play another game in the antiquated arena, which opened in 1972, after the expiration of the lease. The Isles are the only one of 11 major league sports franchises in the New York metropolitan area that does not play in a new or recently updated facility.

The Isles say they won’t play at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum after 2015.
Asked whether his arena would welcome the Islanders when the lease in Nassau runs out, Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner said, “I would hope that’s possible.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, however, believes the Islanders are not yet at the point of no return when it comes to Nassau.

“There’s still time to effectuate a plan,” Bettman said recently. “It’s beyond question that they need a new arena, it’s beyond question they they’re not going to stay in Nassau Coliseum, so Charles will explore the alternatives. We hope the alternatives continue to be on Long Island so Islanders fans, who are many and loyal, can see their team.”

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano last week posted a Request for Qualifications for a “master developer” to develop the Coliseum and surrounding property. The chosen developer would have to negotiate with Wang on a deal for the Islanders at the site. A source familiar with the Islanders’ desires, however, called Mangano’s plan “a nonstarter” because Wang, as a tenant, would not have enough revenue streams for the Islanders to be profitable.

The Islanders declined to comment.

Wang, who has owned the team since April 2000, has met resistance from local politicians on a pair of plans: one in 2010 for a renovated Coliseum with major development of the surrounding property, the other for a new arena built in part with public funding. Wang declared himself a free agent last Aug. 1 after a public referendum for a new Coliseum was rejected by Nassau County taxpayers.

In the New York area, only Brooklyn has a completed, state-of-the-art arena that could be available for the Islanders. Barclays Center opens in September and will be home to the NBA Nets. The Islanders are scheduled to play the New Jersey Devils in an exhibition game at the arena on Oct. 2.

Asked last week about the possibility of the Islanders moving into his building in 2015, Barclays Center and Nets CEO Brett Yorkmark said, “We are interested in bringing NHL hockey to Brooklyn. We feel very strongly about Brooklyn as a hockey market and know we can accommodate it from a building perspective.” Yormark also said he looks forward to “continued dialogue” about the Islanders’ playing more games at Barclays Center.

But even Brooklyn is an imperfect solution for the Islanders. Barclays Center was designed as a showcase for the Nets, with ideal sight lines for basketball. Capacity for hockey at Barclays Center also is just 14,500, which would make it the smallest arena in the NHL.

Brooklyn does offer advantages, though. Unlike the Coliseum, fans can reach Barclays Center via mass transit. As one of New York’s five boroughs, Brooklyn also would ignite increased Manhattan media attention.

Wang is waiting to hear from another pair of local options: Queens; and Suffolk, in Eastern Long Island, which has undeveloped property suitable for a new arena. If Wang, who contends he has lost at least $20 million each season he has owned the Islanders, decides he has no alternative but to leave New York, he will have suitors in Ontario, Quebec City and Seattle, among other municipalities.

Bettman previously has played down Brooklyn as an alternative for the Islanders, concerned that Brooklyn was not central to the location of the bulk of the team’s fan base, but he has softened his stance since visiting Barclays Center last month.

Asked whether he now has an opinion on Brooklyn for the Islanders, Bettman paused thoughtfully before answering.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “It’s something we’d have to look at.”

Staff writer Don Muret contributed to this report.