The luring of the Islanders is officially underway.
Less than two days after Charles Wang said he is ready to explore all his options, the executive vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce said Wang's search should begin in his borough.
"Option number 1 should be Queens," Jack Friedman said. "We are ready for him."
Friedman believes a potential new home for the Islanders would fit perfectly as a centerpiece in the city's plans for the Willets Point area. The project is still in the early stages; Friedman said ground-breaking probably won't take place for another four or five years.
But the Islanders' lease with Nassau County stipulates that they must play their homes games through 2015, so the team is still six seasons from a potential move, anyway.
"You're talking about a property that has access to the Long Island railroad, the subway system, the airports," he said. "It already has a huge parking lot because of Citi Field. It already has the parkway access. It's so ready for a development like this. The Lighthouse project would be a perfect fit."
Friedman sent Wang a letter saying as much back in March, and Friedman said he never received a response. At the time the Islanders released a statement that said they were focused only on working with the Town of Hempstead.
Obviously, that's changed now. Wang set this past Saturday - Opening Day for the hockey season - as his deadline for certainty, and the Town of Hempstead let it pass without an answer. So Wang announced before the game he would be exploring all of his options starting today.
If Wang is interested in the Willets Point area, Friedman said the first step in the process would be for him to meet with representatives of the city's Economic Development Corporation, which oversees all new development projects within the city limits.
A message left with the EDC's press office was not immediately returned, but Friedman said it's his understanding that they are "absolutely" interested in bringing Wang aboard.
"What they didn't want to do is go after him and get in the middle of his negotiations with Nassau County, nor do they want to do to that now," Friedman said. "But if he's going to pursue other options, I'm sure they are certainly very interested, I'm sure, to listening to what he has to say and see if, in his mind, they have a match for what he wants to bring."
The early plans for Willets Point area, Friedman said, include a 400,000-square foot convention center that could, if Wang wanted, be turned into a new arena to house the Islanders.
"So the footprint is already there," he said. "There's also many of the things Charles Wang wanted in his Lighthouse project - hotels, family entertainment centers, restaurants. So it would be a wonderful, wonderful area for Charles Wang to bid on and build his Lighthouse project here in Queens."
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