Wang: Privately funding Coliseum unlikely

As Aug. 1 referendum on Nassau Coliseum approaches, team owner and developer Charles Wang defends borrowing plan for new arena. Videojournalist: Thomas A. Ferrara (July 26, 2011)

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang said last night that there was no alternative to borrowing funds to build a new Nassau Coliseum.

During a gathering of Action Long Island last night that was days before an Aug. 1 public referendum on whether to borrow up to $400 million to build a new Coliseum and a minor league ballpark, Wang said he would have to start construction on a new arena by next June, therefore leaving him little time to contemplate alternatives.

"If we don't put a shovel in the ground in 2012, we can't do it," Wang said. "We're out of options. There is no 'Plan B.' "

But sitting in the audience, Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) offered a suggestion.

"I would invite you, if things don't work out . . . come to my office and we'll talk," Cilmi said.

Said Wang in response: "That's all speculation. It's this or we are not going to be able to do it."

Speaking to a friendly crowd of business owners and advocates at Carlyle on the Green, Wang said he hopes the effort to build a new Coliseum would help to provide a future for his children and grandchildren on Long Island.

"It's way more than hockey," said Islanders senior vice president Michael Picker. "This is a way of life."

The Action Long Island meeting came at the end of an all-day publicity blitz Tuesday that began with a television appearance in the morning and continued with an in-studio appearance with WFAN host Mike Francesca.

During the radio interview, Wang said he most likely would not consider paying for a new arena if the public votes down the referendum.

Wang rejected the notion that he could build the Coliseum out of his own pocket if the public votes against the referendum.

Wang told Francesca that he has lost between $230 million and $240 million since he bought the team in 2000. When Francesca pressed him on the possibility of privately financing the arena, Wang said: "It's not a good idea right now."

"I don't think it works that way. This is what the county came up with and we believe we're at the point where we have to get started on something," Wang added.

Nassau County Democratic Committee chairman Jay Jacobs, who also appeared on WFAN Tuesday, argued there was still time to come up with an alternative to publicly financing a new arena.

"Everybody wants a new Coliseum," Jacobs said. "It shouldn't be publicly funded and it shouldn't cause a property-tax increase."

Jacobs said it should be up to Wang to fund a new arena, with, potentially, help from ticket costs, comparable to the personal seat licenses used at the New Meadowlands Stadium, where the New York Giants and New York Jets play.

On Wednesday, the Islanders plan to hold a rally at Nassau Coliseum in an effort to garner further support. Wang and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano are expected to speak.

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