Here they were, Nassau and Suffolk lawmakers, ready to save the day and permanently bring the New York Islanders back to Nassau Coliseum.
They had no plan. They had no promise of money for the massive renovations that would be needed on a just-renovated arena. They had no proposal that would suddenly produce the kind of arena a major league hockey team could play in.
Instead, all they had were hopes and dreams. The kind that rarely, if ever, come to pass.
Could the Islanders come back for a game or two a year? Sure.
Could the team come back even for a year — temporarily — while a new home is being built? Perhaps.
But the 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 to and from the games. There are no entertainment options, or other revenue-generating activity on the property.
Inside, the concourse size hasn’t changed, the number of seats has shrunk, and there are no restaurants, or club seats. If you’re particularly lucky, you might get to head upstairs, where you’d be wined and dined in one of the Coliseum’s 11 renovated suites. The Prudential Center in Newark has 76 suites. Barclays in Brooklyn has about 100.
All of that, of course, means less revenue, and a home that wouldn’t be viable in the long term for the team, sponsors and fans.
But this isn’t only about money and perks. The team itself has needs the Coliseum can’t fulfill. Sources say a professional hockey team would need at least 18,000 square feet of locker rooms, weight room and fitness areas, gym and practice space, offices, and other facilities. The Coliseum just doesn’t have the space, unless, perhaps, it were to fully renovate its exhibition hall or somehow build on an addition.
Nassau Events Center, the developer and now manager of the renovated Coliseum, spent $165 million on the Coliseum. A full renovation would have cost nearly $350 million. And even if Nassau Events Center was willing to put more money into the Coliseum, its doubtful it would be enough to close the gap between what’s there now and what a professional hockey team would need.
Even developer Bruce Ratner, who renovated the Coliseum, 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. And so, that leaves the team looking for a new home.
On Monday night, elected officials took the first steps toward one possibility.
By holding a listening session regarding development at Belmont Park, state elected officials started an important conversation. It was — for the most part — a civil discussion, with the exception of a few unfortunate outbursts, boos, and interruptions by some Islanders fans, and a few unfortunate generalizations by some community advocates. And there were a host of good ideas raised for development at Belmont: a community center, a hotel, entertainment options, open space, a technology incubator, choices that would appeal to the area’s children, and yes, an arena.
Some residents of Elmont, Floral Park, and nearby Franklin Square spoke favorably of development at the site — including the possibility of an arena. There were those from beyond the immediate community, ready to come and spend money there if something desirable is built. And yes, there were others who disagreed.
Overall, though, it seemed most of the 50-plus speakers, and the hundreds more who listened, were open-minded. To truly come to common ground, Islanders fans have to realize that the community’s needs also are important and development is not just about the team. And local residents should be open to new opportunities, and to the notion that more than one idea might work at the site.
An arena might just be part of the right answer — if done right. That answer could include year-round racing, year-round public transit and plenty of other entertainment options. There’s lots of space at Belmont, and the chance to build a development with a mix of uses that’ll appeal to both the community and those beyond, that’ll make Belmont a destination year-round.
However, nothing that was said Monday night should change the path state officials need to take. Empire State Development is expected to release its request for proposals for the property this month, allowing for developers and others to submit the best possible ideas for the land. Then, they should expeditiously receive responses from potential developers and decide, while keeping the community involved in the process.
If there’s one thing everyone agreed on Monday night, it’s that they’ve waited long enough.
Randi F. Marshall is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.