When it comes to threatening to move the Islanders if he doesn't get a new arena, team owner Charles Wang has gone from no threat to veiled threat to barely concealed threat. And still the building and his $3-billion Lighthouse Project are bogged down in an extensive, state-mandated environmental review process.
Now, Wang has moved on to direct threat: Approve the Lighthouse or the Islanders are outta here!
The threat is tucked deep into the 6,000-page draft environmental impact statement the Lighthouse developers delivered to the Town of Hempstead on Feb. 24. Section 7.0 deals with the economic impact to the town, Nassau County and Long Island if the Lighthouse is not approved by the town.
Hint: The developers think the economic impact of not approving the project will be bad.
But beyond the facts and figures comes a stark, definitive statement - the first from Wang's group - that the Islanders will leave Nassau Coliseum if the Lighthouse is not approved. And since there are no other hockey arenas on Long Island, and none currently being built or planned, that would mean the Islanders would become a part of Long Island's past when their lease expires in 2015.
"The transformation of the Coliseum, including the sports complex and associated parking," the developers' report states, "is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars [and] is essential if the New York Islanders are to remain. In order to absorb the cost of this transformation, it is necessary to develop the remainder of the components of the Lighthouse. Thus, if the Lighthouse is not approved and developed in a manner that can financially support the transformation of the Coliseum, the New York Islanders will leave this venue."
Wang has long maintained he needs more than just a new or rebuilt arena to keep the Islanders here. TOH supervisor Kate Murray has long offered a new or rebuilt arena. So here we are.
The puck, as it were, is in the town's hands; Wang is asking for a thumb's up or down on the project by June or July.
Nassau County is sitting this round of haggling out. Its spokesman, Bruce Nyman, said: "This isn't the first time we've heard this. As a matter of fact, it's in the dictionary under the phrase 'worst-kept secret.' There's no reason for us to even go there. The point has been made and everyone in town and county government understands the importance of moving this forward."
Wang, in an interview with Newsday on Friday, said: "If we don't build this, shame on us. This is something that has to be done. If we can't, you tell me no. It's OK. I mean, really, we'll go where we're loved."
Wang has already received offers from politicians in Queens and Brooklyn to facilitate a move to those boroughs, and the Islanders are planning on playing exhibition games before next season in NHL-hungry Kansas City and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.