Wang announces new plan for Isles arena

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announces the

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announces the putting forth a county wide public referendum to build a ballpark and a new state of the art Nassau Coliseum. (May 11, 2011) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

During the past few years, mid-May has been a period of longing anticipation for Islanders fans -- Who to pick in the draft? Which free agents to target in July? -- but Wednesday was a step in ending the longest and most troubling bout of uncertainty: Where will this team be in the future?

Team owner Charles Wang and Nassau County executive Edward Mangano joined to endorse a $400-million referendum which -- with the approval of the county legislature -- could be put to Nassau County voters Aug. 1.

If the referendum passes and if the borrowing is authorized by a supermajority of the legislature and approved by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the money would go toward an arena that would keep the Islanders on Long Island through at least 2045 and also finance construction of a minor-league ballpark nearby at Mitchel Field.

"The Islanders want to stay here," Wang said. "Work with us and we'll get it done."

It isn't the $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project development plan Wang originally had envisioned, but the proposal to build a new arena is one he supports as a reasonable alternative.

And most importantly, it may be the team's best chance to remain on Long Island.

"I think it's realistic in terms of today's climate and so forth. I think when you look at the Islanders -- it's our home we want to stay here," Wang said.

Under the terms of the proposal, building would commence next summer and a new arena for the Islanders would be available by the 2015-16 season. The plan would require $400 million to finance. If the county legislature approves, residents will go to the polls on Aug. 1 to vote on a referendum that would allow Nassau to borrow money through a general obligation bond to construct two facilities. Mangano said the revenue-sharing plan was devised to not "cost the taxpayers a dime."

"Everything you do in life, you are going to compromise. First priority is to get a new arena and keep the Islanders. We're fulfilling that," Wang said.

Wang and Islanders brass hope this move can re-energize the fan base and translate to a boost in morale -- and personnel -- on the ice.

Finishing in 27th place overall, the Islanders have missed the playoffs four straight seasons. General manager Garth Snow has bemoaned the building as a primary factor in hampering his ability to attract top free agents across the league.

With the promise of a new arena, he hopes that will change.

"Oh absolutely," Snow said. "The big question [with players] is always 'What's going to happen after 2015?' That's what makes today such a special day. Stability is there now. That will be a big bonus for us as an organization."

Said goaltender Rick DiPietro, who is signed through 2021:

"What [players] see when they first get here is what they think of Long Island and the Islanders. That's something we're trying to change. I think our play on the ice is going a long way to change that but a new building will only help."

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