Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for Newsday. A Long Island native, he started working
We're in the seventh year of Charles Wang's quest to meet you at the Lighthouse, but the Islanders still are no closer today to a new Coliseum than they were at the start. And when you get down to it, isn't that the real shame of this whole sorry saga?
For Islanders fans, this story has played out like an annoying soap opera, twisting and turning just enough to keep their hopes alive but never giving them the final answer they crave. They're the real losers here because they're the ones who have been emotionally invested. And they've got nothing to show for it, except for concern about their team's uncertain future.
Their latest tease of a development came Monday in the form of the Town of Hempstead's scaled-down plans for Wang's Lighthouse Project, announced at a news conference at Hempstead Town Hall.
Islanders fans have been waiting for this day for a while, if only because they were hoping that these plans finally would jump-start a negotiation between Wang and Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray and maybe - just maybe - lead to the much-anticipated groundbreaking.
But that's not going to happen anytime soon. Not after the Town of Hempstead's plan represents half the density of what Wang's proposed Lighthouse plan consisted of. And certainly not after Murray made it clear Monday that Hempstead's plan is "not a jumping-off point" for a negotiation. So much for that.
At this point, who knows if Wang is even interested in pursuing a negotiation?
Ever since his "deadline for certainty" passed without a whimper last October, the Islanders' owner has gone silent. The only time he has spoken to Islanders fans since then was in the middle of a game broadcast in February when he said he's still waiting for an answer.
Monday, that answer finally came, and clearly it wasn't the one that Wang and Co. were looking for. His only response came in a joint statement with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano in which they called Hempstead's plan "economically unviable for both the developer and owner of the site." Wang didn't return a call seeking comment.
So in the wake of another step to nowhere, Islanders fans once again are left in a familiar place - with no choice but to wonder what's next. With Wang's Lighthouse Project as we know it in our rearview mirror, where do the Islanders go from here?
There still are options that keep them in the area, options to which Islanders fans cling.
Maybe the casino deal that Mangano has discussed with the Shinnecock tribe comes to fruition and keeps the Islanders on the same site. Maybe a marriage with the Mets in Queens happens.
Or maybe there will be more years of just talk but no action. The only certainty in this whole uncertain situation is that the Islanders' lease at Nassau Coliseum runs through 2015.
"There is a lot of fatigue in the fan base, and right now, they're at a point where they just want an answer," said Nick Giglia, a Bellmore resident and Islanders fan who has chronicled the Lighthouse saga on his Let There Be Light(house) blog.
But if we've learned anything from these past few years, it's that there is no easy answer to the Islanders' future on Long Island. And that after all this time, the end game still seems very far away.