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Filler: Islanders move to Barclays Center is a shame, but it could also be opportunity
It took 35 years, but it looks like the New York/New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders are going to be reunited at the Barclays Center.
This is both a shame, and perhaps, an opportunity for Long Island and the Hub.
A news conference has been scheduled at the new Brooklyn arena for 1 p.m. Wednesday, and every person who would be expected to be on hand for such an announcement is scheduled to attend: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, Islanders owner Charles Wang, Barclays Center developer Bruce Rattner and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, among others.
Wang has a lease at the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum running through 2015 but has been saying for years that the team would not play at the current facility past that date. The Islanders have called the Coliseum home for 40 years. The Coliseum's first event, on Feb. 11 1972, was a Nets game. The Nets played at the Coliseum as an American Basketball Association franchise, leaving in 1977.
This move leaves the Island without a major sports franchise, and it leaves Islander fans, many of whom live in Suffolk County, facing significant travel time to see their team. At least Barclays is extraordinarily accessible by public transportation.
But the move is also a symbol of incompetence in Nassau County administrations going back to the 1990s, when talk of the need for a new arena first began to bubble, and the difficulty of developing on Long Island in general. The most recent serious plan, a Nassau County taxpayer-funded arena that went to a voter referendum, was rejected emphatically.
No one can blame Wang for leaving. His own expansive vision for the 77-acre tract in Uniondale, a mixed-used development called “The Lighthouse Project,” was kyboshed by Nimbyism and local political turf wars. He can't be expected to have his team play in a substandard facility eternally.
There may well be a bright spot, though. While the Islanders -- and creating a new facility for them -- have always been an anchor for any serious Hub plan, they have also been limitations. An arena takes up a huge footprint, and the parking spaces for an arena either eat tremendous acreage it they're asphalt, or a gigantic sum of money if the parking is structured. Now, without being forced to include an arena or those types of parking in their plans (although they still might choose to) developers have a much broader opportunity. They can come up with a vision that provides them with profit, the county with tax revenue, and residents/employers/funseekers with a great place to live, work or recreate.
Or perhaps all three. Or something else entirely.
That the Islanders are decamping is a shame, and the attempts to keep them have been a disaster. What happens next doesn’t have to be.