While the Lighthouse Project may be dead, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano announced a plan today that would include a new home for the New York Islanders that would be built adjacent to the current site of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The County would lay out the money for the project by financing the construction while in return, the Islanders and other tenants would give a percentage of all dollars earned at the new facility back to the County. According to Mangano, that will more than pay the County back for the construction costs of the building while creating thousands of new construction jobs and thousands of permanent jobs.
“The intention here is not to cost the taxpayer one single dime,” Mangano said at a press conference/rally at the Coliseum on Wednesday. “This revenue sharing requirement, coupled with sales tax generated from the new facilities will produce revenue that exceeds the financing needed to construct the job generating improvements and the establishment of a world-class sports/entertainment destination center. This plan requires private sector operators to compensate the County the cost of financing the plan.”
The issue will be put to the voters of Nassau County as part of a referendum on August 1, 2011. If the measure is approved, construction of the new Coliseum could begin in 2012 and the building would be ready for use when the Isles lease expires in August of 2015.
In addition to a new home for the hockey team, the plan would include a minor league baseball stadium and a “world-class sports-entertainment destination center” in the heart of Nassau County. Talks are also underway to have the Shinnecock Indian Nation build a casino near Belmont Park and not at the present Coliseum site.
“This is my home,” Islanders’ owner Charles Wang explained. “I’ve been saying for 10 years now, work with us and we’ll get this done.”
Wang also indicated that the new Coliseum would be more ambitious than the original renovation plans that were included in the Lighthouse, saying that the new building would be on the “leading edge” of modern technology and a “first class professional home” for Long Island’s only major league professional sports team.
For Islanders fans, the passing of this referendum would mean the team would stay on Long Island through at least 2045.
The Islanders franchise have had difficulty attracting top flight free agents in part due to their antiquated building and the uncertainty concerning the team’s future on Long Island. Wang hopes the approval of the new arena will change that. “Once players know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, I think it will make a big difference,” he said.
“For us this provides stability,” GM Garth Snow added. “It eliminates doubts in a player’s mind. Conversations I’ve had with players and with agents in past, the biggest question is what’s going on with the new building?”
While today’s announcement may make a big difference for the franchise’s future, it may not be in time to help this coming summer. NHL free agency begins July 1 and the vote on the new arena would not be held until a month after that. Still, for the long term, this could be a big help if and when the Islanders make bids for top flight free agents.
The political will seems to be here to support this endeavor. In addition to the County Supervisor, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who opposed the Lighthouse Project because she felt it would cause too much congestion, is in favor of this plan. Compromises have been reached with Mr. Wang, the County, the town, the Shinnecocks and local labor leaders are also voicing their support as well.
The biggest hurdle may be selling the voters on the need to lay out money for the renovated Coliseum at a time where state and local budgets are under so much strain due to the poor economy.
The clock is still ticking towards August of 2015 when the Islanders lease at the Nassau Coliseum expires. This represents the best and perhaps last chance to keep the team on Long Island. The vote is in the hands of the residents of Nassau County. Now we’ll see if they really want to keep the Islanders on Long Island.