National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday blamed Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead for the state of the Nassau Coliseum and said the league is working with New York Islanders owner Charles Wang to consider other sites in the metropolitan area.
Bettman, addressing the Islanders' future during a 90-minute state-of-the-league session with Associated Press sports editors at the NHL's Manhattan offices, said the league is considering other sites "because it seems that Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead are either unable or unwilling to deal with the situation."
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"We're continuing to explore and look at the options," he said. "But it's clear that Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead don't seem to be invested in having a new arena in the place that probably makes the most sense, namely where the Nassau Coliseum is."
Bettman called the Coliseum, which opened in 1972, "a facility that is long past its due date, and I don't think the county has done a particularly effective or spectacular job maintaining it." He reiterated that the building "is not a place that will be housing the Islanders any longer than their lease requires."
Katie Grilli-Robles, spokeswoman for County Executive Edward Mangano, said "Commissioner Bettman's remarks come as no surprise.
"The county executive inherited a coliseum that is aging and reflective of many of Nassau's buildings," she said. "That is why County Executive Mangano has offered bold solutions to encourage the construction of a new arena to retain the Islanders. We remain optimistic that a solution will be reached without a cost to taxpayers."
A proposal to borrow $400 million to build a new arena, as well as a minor league baseball stadium, failed in a public referendum last August.
Hempstead town spokesman Mike Deery responded that "Hempstead's town board approved a new building zone 10 months ago that expressly allows for the construction of a new Coliseum. The puck is now clearly in the zone of any developers who wish to step forward and build a new hockey arena."
The Islanders, whose season ended on April 7, finished in last place in their division and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
In March, asbestos contamination was found in four locations in the Nassau Coliseum, but reports by a consulting firm hired by Nassau County showed air quality was safe in public areas of the arena.
The team's lease with Nassau County expires in 2015 and the team, failing to get approval for a new arena as part of the since-abandoned Lighthouse project, recently announced it will play an exhibition game at Brooklyn's new Barclays Center in October.
"Barclays, I suppose, on some level, is an option," Bettman said. "But I'm not sure how effective it can serve the fan base that principally is in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens. It's not that easy to get to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. So it's not anything that's been focused on, other than the Islanders are going to play a preseason game there."
"We're not looking at a market relocation. We're going to do everything possible to figure a way to make this work here [in the metropolitan area], and if we're unsuccessful at some point, then we'd have to consider the options. But we're not anywhere near that."
Bettman said he hears "from a half-dozen cities on an regular basis that would like to have a team," and noted that Kansas City, where the Islanders played one game amid speculation they were testing the possibility of transferring to Missouri, has "this wonderful arena just waiting for a tenant. But, you know, we try to avoid franchise relocation."
He also noted that some cities, including Quebec City, rumored as another possible landing spot for the Islanders, "are out trying to build arenas. We tell them, 'If you want to build an arena, that's great. But don't build it with the expectations that you'll have an NHL team, because we're not promising you one.'
"That's all we say, because I don't think it's fair to get the fans revved up about the possibility."
Bettman said that Wang has been "respectful, not just of his contractual obligations" to stay at the Coliseum until 2015, "but he wants to do the right thing for the fans on Long Island. Let's be clear: He bought the Islanders to have them on Long Island. But he's not getting a lot of help or cooperation."
The Islanders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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The Islanders lease
Nassau County owns the Coliseum, and leases it to the Islanders and SMG, an arena management company, until July 2015.
In 2009, a sublease also set the following terms: