Even as New York Islanders owner Charles Wang said Thursday that a report that he was ending efforts to build the Lighthouse project was untrue, anger simmered among several of his most vocal supporters after it took a full 19 hours for any official response.
Yet as Lighthouse officials did damage control Thursday, they may have taken a baby step toward getting something built on the site surrounding the Nassau Coliseum. Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said Thursday that she called Wang, telling him she was happy he wasn't abandoning the project and offering to meet with him to discuss "scaling down" the project in an effort to find "commonality."
In a letter sent to Wang Thursday, Murray argued that modifying the project could resolve some of the town's environmental concerns, "making it possible for the town board to more promptly provide the certainty that you are seeking."
Wang hopes to build a $3.8-billion mixed-use development that would include a $320-million renovation to Nassau Coliseum, along with 42 buildings containing residential, retail and office space. He had set Oct. 3 as a deadline for "certainty," but has not yet received zoning approval from the town.
Wang repeated Thursday that he is awaiting a "yes or no decision" from the town.
"We don't want to negotiate this through the press," he said.
The flurry of activity began Wednesday afternoon, when the Long Island Press, citing an unnamed source, reported online that Wang was pulling the plug on the Lighthouse project and had reorganized his staff, moving people off the Lighthouse and onto other assignments.
A source close to Wang said Thursday that no one was fired and no one was reassigned. The source noted that some Islanders staffers have recently moved from the team's Plainview office to the Coliseum.
On Wednesday, Lighthouse officials did not return calls, e-mails or text messages and did not make an official statement until late Thursday morning. The silence drew ire from Islanders fans and other supporters, who posted their reaction on blogs and on Twitter.
"I realize it's a business deal, but people have taken days off from work in order to go to these meetings, people have written and signed petitions, they have done everything they can to support this and they felt abandoned," said North Bellmore resident Nick Giglia, 24, who runs a blog about the project at lettherebelighthouse.com. "People have been very generous with their time and their support and they're owed honesty."
It's unclear why Lighthouse staff didn't respond Wednesday night. But in an interview Thursday, Wang denounced the Press story.
"There's no truth to the story," Wang said. "It's bogus. There are no plans to abandon the project."
Long Island Press editor Michael Martino, who wrote the story, said he stands by it.
"I did not expect the Lighthouse people to say anything or respond in any other way than they did today," Martino said Thursday. "Our information was solid. I think this is a scramble to handle a possible PR nightmare."
Wang said Thursday that he is continuing to "look at all options," which could include selling or moving the team. But he added: "My heart is still on Long Island. I love Long Island. This is where the Islanders belong. Let's play hockey."