Ratner makes Isles dates part of arena pitch
In its bid to win Nassau County’s request for proposals to develop the Nassau Coliseum property on Long Island, the group led by Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner believes it has an ace up its sleeve: It has pledged that the New York Islanders, who are leaving Nassau for Brooklyn in 2015, would return to play six regular-season games each season at the new-look coliseum.
Somewhat surprisingly, Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark said that if Ratner were to win the development contract, having those six Islanders games at the venue would not change the group’s plans to scale down the coliseum. The Islanders would play in his group’s proposed 13,000-seat, remodeled venue.
In 2015, when the Islanders make their scheduled move to Brooklyn, Barclays Center will gain the label of the NHL’s smallest arena, with capacity of 15,000 for hockey. The Islanders averaged 13,307 fans over 24 home dates during the lockout-abbreviated 2013 regular season. That figure ranked 29th in the league, behind only the Phoenix Coyotes.
“Thirteen thousand works,” said Yormark, who added that he expects the Islanders, with their improvements on the ice, to be a hotter ticket in two years. “Scarcity is a good thing.”
The Barclays Center group, Forest City Ratner, has proposed scaling down the 16,200-seat coliseum to 13,000 seats for games and concerts and 4,000 for family shows. It has three competitors in the RFP: the Madison Square Garden Co. and Long Island developers Edward Blumenfeld (who is working with SMG, the coliseum’s current manager) and Bernard Shereck.
But it is the Barclays Center group that has the Islanders, who completed a 25-year lease agreement in October to play in the Brooklyn arena.
Ratner and Yormark have a working relationship with Islanders owner Charles Wang, who gave his blessing to having his team potentially play six games each season in Nassau starting in 2015-16.
In polling conducted by marketing strategy agency CSE last month for Yormark’s staff to gauge the interest of Long Island fans in the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn, a few participants suggested, “Don’t leave.”
“It’s their team,” Yormark said of the Islanders’ deep fan base on Long Island. “It’s important for the Long Island fan base to stay connected to the Islanders. We also feel that it’s a big differentiator for our group in this bid.”
Yormark said one possible concept for the six Islanders games in Nassau would be to label some of them “heritage nights” and feature historic rivals such as the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers as opponents.
“There’s so much you can do with those games,” Yormark said. “We could also offer a 12-game ticket plan for Long Islanders, with six games at the coliseum and six games in Brooklyn.”
Forest City Ratner’s proposed $229 million project would also feature a 2,000-seat concert venue, a 2,500-seat amphitheater, restaurants, a movie theater and retail space.
Yormark said that he had letters of commitment for more than 100 events and an agreement with an AHL franchise to move to the coliseum but would not divulge details. Islanders owner Wang also owns the Bridgeport (Conn.) Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ AHL affiliate.
Nassau County officials declined to comment. All four bidders are awaiting the next step in the RFP process. There is no timetable for a decision.