Loss of Islanders Nassau's wake-up call

A large crowd gathers outside the Barclays Center

A large crowd gathers outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on its opening night. (Sept 28, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams)

Losing the Islanders to almost a decade of political backbiting and foot dragging ought to knock some sense into Nassau's leadership.

For eight years, there never seemed to be a shared sense of urgency about the importance of remaking the area around Nassau Coliseum.

Like Charles Wang's Lighthouse, an ambitious proposal the Islanders owner made in 2004 to remake Nassau's last major undeveloped area into a sports, entertainment, housing and business complex, too many local projects never get done.

That reality, in a middle-class region under continuing economic duress, made watching Wednesday's news conference at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn almost painful.

Yes, the idea of building an arena in Brooklyn had -- and still has -- critics. Developer Bruce Ratner's vision of what Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn could be was almost as audacious as Wang's dreams for Nassau. Ratner is likely to continue fighting critics because the project, which calls for affordable housing and other new buildings, is far from finished.

Wang, as an excited team owner rather than a frustrated developer, sat Wednesday alongside Ratner, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as Brooklyn gratefully and gleefully embraced Wang and his team.

Not one of them talked about the Islanders' patchy record -- because they know that getting the storied franchise is more than about landing a winning home team.

They know they've got a prize, a business that is going to attract money, jobs and the prestige of a second major league professional team to Brooklyn. They know that the Islanders will keep their hard-core fans and attract new ones because of the state-of-the-art arena, its amenities and the bustling surrounding neighborhood.

In short, they know what Wang had been trying to tell Long Island's political leadership since 2004, when he first proposed the Lighthouse.

Wang was so confident about that potential that he passed around caps and T-shirts bearing the motto: "Meet Me at the Lighthouse."

The motto now would be: "Meet Me at the 77 Acres of Parking."

As far back as 2005, Wang tried to keep politics out of his $3.8 billion proposal.

"This is not a Suozzi project, it's not a D'Amato-Mondello project, it's a Wang project," he told a breakfast of business leaders, referring to then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat, and county GOP chairman Joseph Mondello and former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, both Republicans.

But Wang needed Nassau's collective political leadership to get it done. Instead, he got nothing. Early on, according to a Newsday story, he angered D'Amato by refusing to hire his brother. D'Amato contended that was not true.

But then came more delays, as the Republican-run Town of Hempstead -- sensitive, no doubt, to criticisms that the plan would put too much on too little a piece of land -- took years to review Wang's proposal. Supervisor Kate Murray essentially killed Wang's dream by rezoning the area for a significantly more modest a plan.

The result? Nassau has parking lots, while Brooklyn has a new arena. Now, the borough's getting the Islanders, too.

Mangano said he hoped to announce new plans, a new vision and a new developer for the Hub.

Good luck, because now there's a deadline. Nassau has two years before the Islanders' departure to plan and execute a project big enough to make up for the jobs and business revenue that will flee Nassau along with the team.

Get it done.

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