Editorial: Loss of Islanders symbolizes Long Island's weaknesses
Let the heartbreaking departure of the New York Islanders from the Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn's Barclays Center be a stern warning for everyone who wants to keep Long Island just as it is. Change is guaranteed, and constant. The question isn't whether we'll have it, but whether it will be for the better.
This change -- taking away a championship-winning team that many of us loved, and likely signaling the beginning of the end for an arena that has hosted so many memorable events far beyond hockey -- is for the worse. And it's the result of an ineffective, hyperlocal governmental structure, as well as a cadre of "We don't want to be Queens"-style fearmongering by politicians who put their own narrow needs and desires before those of their communities and Long Island.
On Wednesday, an announcement that had been dreaded and rumored became official at a news conference in Brooklyn: The Islanders will depart after the 2014-15 season, joining the NBA Nets, who also played at Nassau Coliseum in the 1970s, before leaving themselves.
Consider this: Nassau County Republicans, particularly those who run the Town of Hempstead like their own personal fiefdom, have thwarted truly meaningful redevelopment of the Hub for 15 years. The Lighthouse project of Islanders owner Charles Wang was the bold plan needed to create a suburban center, a destination of entertainment, commerce and housing. There's no doubt the privately funded Lighthouse project had challenges, including where to find the many millions needed for infrastructure funding. But Wang and then-Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi could not overcome the power of NO! The crimped zoning plan the town later developed hampered the next county executive, Edward Mangano, forcing him to seek approval for public bonding to cover the cost of building a parking garage, a plan rejected by voters last year.
Yet over that same period a $1 billion arena was planned, approved and built in Brooklyn that, as part of a $5 billion mixed-use commercial and residential project, is going to propel that neighborhood and county forward for decades.
Part of the problem is the ability of towns like Hempstead to stymie projects of regional importance. Without some centralized power in planning, the narrow political desires and NIMBY -- and in some cases, admittedly, real -- concerns of people living near proposed projects will always trump the greater good of the region. Too many elected officials are more concerned about job security than the commonweal.
There is no good news here, and no reason for optimism. For now, there is no vision being trumpeted for the Hub that would provide anything close to the energy and growth a new Coliseum and the Islanders would have provided. Like it or not, Long Island is changing. This week, it took a turn for the worse.