This story was originally published in Newsday on April 26, 2000
After weeks of speculation, negotiation and deliberation, software executives Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar yesterday completed an agreement to buy the New York Islanders hockey team.
The agreement, for $ 190 million, was signed by the Computer Associates executives at their office in Islandia about 4:15 p.m., raising local hopes of rebuilding both a hockey team and 70 acres of prime Nassau County real estate.
Even before the contract was signed yesterday, jubilant Nassau County officials were already broadcasting their reactions to Wang's long-awaited deal, which comes after four years of uncertain leadership by two ownerships since John O. Pickett decided to sell Long Island's only major-league sports team.
"I welcome the sale of the team to someone like him whose reputation precedes him," said the Nassau legislature's presiding officer, Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury). "He is a caring person and is committed to building the Islanders team and that is important to the economic health of Nassau County."
A news conference to announce the sale-which is still subject to approval by the National Hockey League's board of governors-was scheduled for 10:30 a. m. today at the Garden City Hotel. Sources said the announcement would be confined to the transfer of the team from the current owners, Howard and Edward Milstein and Steven Gluckstern. Those partners' plans for the team foundered when they couldn't reach agreements to rebuild Nassau Coliseum or develop surrounding land.
National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman was traveling to St. Louis for last night's playoff game between the Blues and San Jose Sharks and could not be reached for comment.
The purchase does not include plans for a new arena or a new lease agreement with Nassau Coliseum manager SMG, according to a person familiar with the deal. Wang and Kumar have yet to work out plans beyond the team's purchase; both have maintained a public silence about the purchase for two weeks and neither would return calls seeking comment yesterday.
But the purchase of the team is considered the first step toward replacing the Coliseum and renegotiating a debilitating lease with SMG, which has 15 years left on its contract with Nassau County.
According to sources, the controversial Philadelphia-based SMG will continue to manage the property for now. But the sources said that Wang is a "very methodical person" who is waiting for the NHL to approve the sale of the team to him and his partner. After that, sources said, Wang will meet with SMG officials to work out a new deal.
If talks break down, the sources said, Wang will look to the county to condemn the lease with SMG. The county has the right of eminent domain in the lease, which allows it to condemn the lease without SMG's consent or approval. It was not clear if Wang would be asked to reimburse the county to have the lease condemned, but the financially strapped county would be hard-pressed to pay a minimum of $ 10 million, and possibly more than $ 20 million, needed to end the lease.
Regarding the development of the surrounding property, Wang has said previously that Nassau County needs a convention center where major events can be held. County officials have long speculated that if Wang bought the team, he would build a center. County officials said they have received interest from other companies to build a hotel, and county executive Thomas Gulotta has said that whoever purchases the team is expected to build a new arena.
Excited Nassau County lawmakers received calls in the afternoon from Wang inviting them to the news conference. Gulotta was among those who jumped the gun on the announcement, angering Wang, sources said. Gulotta spoke publicly about the sale in a radio interview before 4 p.m. and called leaders of the Islanders fan groups to boast of the deal.
"This is great news for sports fans and taxpayers on Long Island," Gulotta said of the sale. "Mr. Wang and Mr. Kumar's ownership will ensure that Nassau County remains the home of the Islanders and that we can restore the legacy of this great team."
Brentwood resident Robert Ceparano, who helped spark Islanders fans to stage a Feb. 12 protest rally in the stands against the deterioration of the team and the Coliseum, said the sale to Wang is "just too exciting for words. To think we're at a point where we can have hope again is amazing."
The deal ends the two-plus year reign by the embattled ownership group of the Milsteins and Gluckstern and finally severs ties with Pickett, who held a minority interest in the team since he sold it to the Milstein-Gluckstern group in 1997. The Milsteins and Gluckstern could not be reached for comment today on the sale.
Wang and Kumar become the fourth Islanders owners in eight seasons, including John Spano's short term in 1996 just before he was charged in a bank fraud scheme.
The Islanders was established as a franchise in October of 1971 and opened its first season in 1972 under its first owner, Roy Boe. The team went on to win four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83, the only U.S.-based team to achieve the feat. But recently they have faltered, missing the playoffs for six straight seasons.