Randi Marshall is a member of the Newsday and amNew York editorial board.
The ghost of the New York Islanders hung over Nassau Coliseum Tuesday, as representatives from Nassau County and Nassau Events Center, the firm renovating the arena, took reporters on a tour of the work they've done so far. Despite construction and wiring everywhere, orange and blue stripes still wrap poles and hallways, and most of the questions County Executive Ed Mangano and developer Bruce Ratner fielded were about whether the renovations would lead to the team's return.
Neither took that bait. The arena, now scheduled for completion by next March, will accommodate just 13,000 for hockey, and the reduction in seats was portrayed as an effort to make it more spacious, with better accessibility and a way to walk around the whole arena from inside the bowl.
The demolition is still ongoing, and the hard hats reporters were handed didn't seem quite necessary. (Neither Mangano nor Ratner wore one.) There’s progress on asbestos remediation but some of the seats haven't been removed yet. The arena's facade won't change until late summer; new seats won't come in until the winter. There'll be new lighting, new paint, and maybe a photo gallery highlighting some old Coliseum moments.
There's plenty of work still to do.
But even as Mangano and Ratner looked forward, the focus remained on the past.
Not only are there no expectations for an Islanders' permanent return to the Coliseum, but there's even a question as to a minor league hockey team's presence. When asked about minor league hockey, Ratner pointed to the plans for a "D League" basketball team, and said the potential for a minor league team would be discussed with the Islanders' new ownership. Ratner said he was "committed" to it, but made no promises.
And while there's a plan for the Islanders to play six games at their former home, that too seems a bit up in the air, in part because of the team's changing ownership and in part because the National Hockey League hasn't approved it.
And then came Ratner's response to concerns that the ghosts of the Isles, and fan disappointment over their absence, will loom over the arena even after it reopens. "Because of the way this place is going to look, it's going to look so different, so contemporary ... I don't think it's going to be an issue," Ratner said.
In other words, the shiny, renovated Uniondale arena, which is taking its darker color scheme and other architectural and design ideas from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, will have moved on from its past and into a future. Quite possibly without another puck ever dropping.
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