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OpinionColumnistsRandi F. Marshall

Without Belmont, goodbye Isles

Local affection for the Coliseum isn't enough. The team needs a better arena.

Anders Lee #27 of the New York Islanders

Anders Lee #27 of the New York Islanders celebrates his third period goal against the Edmonton Oilers with teammate Leo Komarov #47 at Barclays Center on Feb. 16, 2019 in New York City. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

A compromise over where the New York Islanders would play potential playoff games is a good move in what’s been a difficult dance.

But the agreement also underscores the long-term challenge: As configured, Nassau Coliseum cannot be a permanent home for a successful professional hockey team.

If nothing else, the deal, which gives the Coliseum one round of playoffs and Barclays Center in Brooklyn the rest, is a reminder of why the Islanders left the Coliseum, of why they plan a new home at Belmont Park, and of why the Uniondale arena is not a viable long-term alternative, as some have suggested, at least not without extensive changes there.

With opposition to Belmont intensifying, and with wounds from the Amazon HQ2 revolt in Queens still fresh, it’s important to understand the consequences of rejecting vital economic development. Here, that means losing the economic boost that Belmont’s redevelopment can bring, and potentially losing Long Island’s hockey team — again.

Fans love the Coliseum, warts and all, and the team has played well there. The barn, as it’s fondly still called despite its new Slinky-looking wraparound, is loud, and there’s not a bad seat in the place. But, as the Islanders said in a statement last week, the Coliseum “does not qualify as an NHL major league facility.”

That’s true for many reasons. But at the heart of it is a financial one: If the NHL and the team had made a purely financial decision about the postseason, there would have been no debate. Barclays Center would be the revenue winner.

That’s not just because it has thousands of more seats. Barclays has 10 times more luxury suites than the Coliseum. Then there are the restaurants, club seats and other perks Barclays offers, that the Barn does not.

The Coliseum, even with a $180 million renovation that includes new bathrooms and a nicer facade, can’t provide the financial foundation, never mind the other facilities and spaces, that a pro team requires.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. But another Coliseum upgrade likely would come at a cost of far more than $100 million, plus a revenue deal to give the team a huge share of the arena and the Hub’s development. Even that might not be enough. Even if it were, is it likely or realistic? Not quite.

Most Isles fans and observers are familiar with the team’s past money problems. They know that without a successful home, it’s a lot harder for the team to invest in itself, attract talent and build a Stanley Cup contender.

Enter Belmont. The planned new arena, plus the rest of the development, could give the Islanders its first solid financial footing, while offering the comforts of home ice that fans love about the Coliseum. And, in turn, the arena, when combined with the hotel and retail village, could give the region its own economically vibrant destination with jobs, added tax revenue, and new visitors ready to spend money in the area.

The anti-corporatist cloud that mushroomed during the Amazon debate isn’t going away. So, there’s little doubt that pushback on the Belmont project will continue, not just on traffic and transit, but also on planned tax exemptions and payments in lieu of taxes. State officials and the developers have to be prepared for that, and must address concerns.

But there’s also little doubt that if the Amazon opposition spreads to major projects like Belmont and beyond, the Islanders’ future isn’t the only thing at stake. The Island’s economic future is, too. 

Randi F. Marshall is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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