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OpinionColumnistsRandi Marshall

A long way from bringing Isles home

Speakers line up at a listening session by

Speakers line up at a listening session by elected officials in Elmont Monday regarding development at unused land at Belmont Park. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Here they were, Nassau and Suffolk lawmakers ready to save the day and bring the New York Islanders “home.”

Oh, wait.

First in letters released Monday and then in a news conference Friday, they had no plan, no promise of money for massive renovations on a just-renovated arena. All they had were hopes and dreams. The kind that rarely, if ever, come to pass.

Could the Islanders return for a game or two? Sure. Could the team come back even for a year, while a new home is built? Perhaps. But NYCB Live’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum won’t likely be the team’s permanent home.

The renovated Coliseum sits on an empty stretch of asphalt. There’s no mass transit. There are no other entertainment options, or revenue-generating activities, on the property.

Inside, the concourse size hasn’t changed, the number of seats has shrunk, and there are 11 renovated suites. The Prudential Center in Newark has 76 suites. Barclays in Brooklyn has about 100. All of that means less revenue at Nassau and a home that’s not viable for the team, sponsors and fans.

But this isn’t only about money and perks. The team has needs the Coliseum can’t fulfill. A professional hockey team requires at least 18,000 square feet of locker and weight rooms, fitness and practice space, and other facilities. The Coliseum doesn’t have the space, unless, perhaps, it renovates its exhibition hall or builds an addition.

As for Long Island Association chief executive Kevin Law’s claim Friday that “anything that needs to be done” will be done to make the arena suitable for the National Hockey League? Don’t count on it. Just look at the numbers. Nassau Events Center, the developer and manager, spent $165 million to minimally renovate the Coliseum. A true gut renovation, the kind that would have kept the Islanders at the Coliseum in the first place, would have cost $350 million or more. And that doesn’t even address public transit, surrounding development, and other needs. Even if Nassau Events Center, or some other arena angel, put in some money, it’s doubtful anyone would close the gap.

Even developer Bruce Ratner, who headed the renovation effort, knows it. In 2013, he told the Nassau County Legislature, “Honestly, for a team to play here 44 games, you would probably have to build this Coliseum from scratch.”

He’s right. So that leaves the team looking for a new home.

On Monday night, elected state officials took the first steps toward one possibility, by holding a listening session about development at Belmont Park. There were good ideas: a community center, a hotel, entertainment, open space, a technology incubator, choices geared to local children, and yes, an arena. It was, for the most part, a civil discussion, except for a few unfortunate outbursts and interruptions by some Islanders fans, and a few unfortunate generalizations by some community advocates.

Some residents of Elmont, Floral Park and nearby Franklin Square spoke favorably of development and even an arena. Those from beyond the community seemed ready to spend money there if something desirable is built. And yes, others disagreed.

But it seemed most of the hundreds present were open-minded. To reach common ground, Islanders fans have to realize the community’s needs are important. Development is not just about the team. Local residents should be open to new opportunities, and to the notion that more than one idea might work.

An arena just might be part of the answer, if done right, with year-round racing, year-round public transit and other entertainment options to make Belmont a destination.

Empire State Development is expected to release its request for proposals this month, allowing developers and others, including, perhaps, the Islanders, to submit ideas. Then, officials should decide quickly.

If there’s one thing everyone agreed on Monday, it’s that they’ve waited long enough.

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

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