NHL chief: Islanders deadline gets close

The Nassau Coliseum. (July 6, 2011) The Nassau Coliseum. (July 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that the New York Islanders are "getting close" to the point where work must begin on a new or renovated building before the team's Nassau Coliseum lease expires in 2015.

"It's not tomorrow, and people shouldn't panic, and nobody is focused on what the alternative is, and frankly if they run 24 hours late, we'll deal with that," he said in an interview on WFAN-AM, after acknowledging it takes about three years to complete an arena project. "But the team has to have a new building and it has to be concrete plans on the horizon that's going to get it done. Otherwise, we're going to have a problem.

"I don't know exactly how we're going to solve that problem, but it's inconceivable to me the Islanders wouldn't be on Long Island because it would be malpractice for those in charge to let that happen."

In August, Nassau voters defeated a referendum that would have permitted the county to borrow up to $400 million to build a new arena and a minor league ballpark at the Hub site.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano recently submitted an extensive economic development plan to the state that envisions creating a bioscience research and development park, and a new Nassau Coliseum in the Hub. The proposal also focuses on Belmont Park as the site of new sports and entertainment options and suggests that Belmont could be an alternative site for the Coliseum if the bioscience park would take up the entire 77-acre Hub site.

The county is primarily asking for $253 million in state money for infrastructure and road improvements. It would still have to seek private developers for the rest of the proposals.

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In response to Bettman's comments, Mangano said Monday, "We are exploring opportunities to partner with the state to attract private sector financing for the site."

A spokesman for the Islanders declined to comment.

Bettman said his definition of Long Island extends to Queens, where he called the area around Citi Field "an interesting location" and "not the craziest thing I've ever heard." He also mentioned interest in the team from Suffolk County.

But he seemed to hold out hope for a solution in Nassau, saying, "It would be insane not to have a new arena."

Bettman said he had hoped the referendum supporting a renovated arena would pass on Aug. 1. Why did it fail?

"First of all I think they had the unfortunate luck, the bad luck, of having that referendum on the Monday while Washington was dysfunctional on the budget. So the atmosphere throughout the United States was polluted for government and doing all these things," he said.

"The debate in Nassau was over if something went wrong how much would this cost? Not that this was a surcharge to everybody. I thought it broke down along political lines as these things do, and it was unfortunate.

"The fact of the matter is, and it's undeniable, having the Islanders play in Nassau County, having the people who work for the Islanders own homes in that marketplace, the number of jobs, the economic impact, can't be denied. I refuse to accept that this team is not going to get a new building at some point," Bettman said.

"Charles Wang is committed to the Island, is committed to the Islanders. He's devoted almost a decade of his life and tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of this, and fortunately there are a few years left. They're not going to stay in the Nassau Coliseum no matter what. We're going to need to come up with a solution somehow, somewhere."

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