After years of trying to keep Islanders in Nassau, Charles Wang chose alternative
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Yes, Charles Wang is disappointed about leaving. His goal from the start was to keep the Islanders in Nassau County.
The pursuit of replacing Nassau Coliseum began the moment he bought the Islanders in 2000, and it led him down an exhausting road filled with political battles, architectural renderings and public hearings.
Finally, he decided he had enough, which is why the Islanders are headed to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn once their lease with Nassau County expires in June 2015.
"When you have a good alternative," Wang said, "at some point you take the alternative."
This was inside the lobby of the Barclays Center Wednesday, moments after he stood on a dais alongside New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and arena owner Bruce Ratner and opened the show by saying, "Hello, Brooklyn."
This was not the new-arena celebration Wang envisioned more than a decade ago, and he acknowledged that.
"After 12, 13 years, you feel a little bad," he said of leaving Long Island. "It's sort of a bittersweet thing, but at the same time, here, we're home."
Then Wang smiled. More than once Wednesday he said this was a day to look ahead, but even he seemed to find it hard to follow his own advice, considering what he'd done to try to make Nassau County work.
Said Bettman: "I know firsthand he spent the better part of a decade and tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of a new home for the Islanders."
Wang refused to estimate how much money he has lost while running the Islanders; a Newsday review of the team's finances in May 2009 showed he spent $208.8 million to keep the franchise operating. That's after spending $74.2 million to buy it and assuming $97 million in liabilities. And that's not counting what he spent on arena plans.
"We tried everything we could," Wang said. "We wanted to stay there originally. We didn't have the opportunity to do it. Now we have this great, great, great alternative."
Wang said he sometimes wonders "what if," especially about his Lighthouse Project, a mixed-use development plan for the area surrounding the Coliseum.
Back when Wang was promoting the plan, he used to say he envisioned his grandchildren driving by the development on the Meadowbrook Parkway and saying, "Hey, grandpa built that!"
He pursued the Lighthouse Project for several years, changing the designs a few times at the request of others before abandoning it when he couldn't come to an agreement with the Town of Hempstead regarding the overall scope of the project. That was in 2009.
Then came the referendum in August 2011 that would have built a new publicly financed arena; Nassau taxpayers, however, resoundingly voted it down. Wang denied that was the final straw in his long quest for a new home in Nassau County.
"It was a long shot," he said Wednesday of the referendum. "We knew that, OK?"
The night it was voted down, Wang responded to the disappointment by announcing his intentions to evaluate every option for the future Islanders home that came his way.
"Everybody that had a concrete offer, we looked at," he said, "and then we decided what we wanted."
Enter Brooklyn, with a 25-year lease at the arena he wanted to bring to Nassau County.
"Now we have an opportunity to have a home that's just beautiful," he said. "You walk around, it's mind-boggling."