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Hempstead plan raises questions on Islanders' fate

Islanders' Trent Hunter, Frans Nielsen and Jon Sim

Islanders' Trent Hunter, Frans Nielsen and Jon Sim celebrate Hunter's third period goal at Nassau Coliseum. (April 1, 2010) Credit: David Pokress

Whenever in recent months Islanders owner Charles Wang has been asked about his stalled Lighthouse Project, his ambitious development plan for the acreage around the Nassau Coliseum, he has typically smiled and pretended to zip his lips shut.

The only time Wang has spoken publicly in the past 10 months about his project, which in his view has languished with Hempstead Town planners and officials for far too long, he insisted he is open to alternatives.

"We have a lot of options," he said in February, "and we're looking at all the options."

As the Town of Hempstead Monday unveils its vision for a dramatically scaled down development plan for the land around the Coliseum, one question will inevitably be asked: What about the Islanders, Long Island's only major league sports team?

Wang declined to comment for this story, but interviews suggest these are Wang's most likely options for his National Hockey League team now that the town, in unveiling its own plan, has all but closed the door on his:

1. Work with Town of Hempstead.

Wang has always said he is looking for a yes-or-no answer from the Town of Hempstead for his project. Monday's announcement figures to be the closest thing to that. But will this plan be enough for Wang to make the development he wants to build on the site economically viable? In a rare joint statement with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Wang said the answer "looks to be" no.

Under the town plan, the maximum building height has been cut from 35 floors, as Wang envisioned, to nine, and the number of housing units has dropped from 2,306 to 500. Experts question whether it offers enough opportunity to offset the cost of building and operating a refurbished Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders' home.

2. Join up with the casino plan.

Newsday has reported that Wang has met with Mangano regarding Mangano's ongoing talks with the Shinnecock Nation of Southampton about building a casino on the Coliseum property. Could Wang play some sort of role if a casino were to be built on this land? Members of the tribe have referred to the Coliseum as a preferred site for their casino. And the National Hockey League has no problem with a casino adjacent to an arena "as long as the casino and the arena aren't connected physically," according to a league spokesman.

3. Sign on with the Mets in Queens.

Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon recently told Newsday that he has had discussions with Wang about the possibility of building an arena in Willets Points for the Islanders. Wang has not commented on this.

Sterling Equities, the Wilpon family's umbrella company, was one of 29 developers that formally filed paperwork last year with the New York City Economic Development Corp. to redevelop Willets Point. Could Wang move the team - and his development ideas - to Willets Point?

The Islanders' lease with Nassau County runs through the 2014-15 hockey season, which is around the time New York City is hoping to have the Willets Point construction nearing completion.

The Wilpons have also spoken with Major League Soccer about building an open-air soccer stadium at Willets Point.

4. Move to Kansas City.

The state-of-the-art Sprint Center remains vacant as it nears its third birthday. It was built with the intention of drawing an NHL team to the city, to no avail thus far. So far, Wang has shown no intentions of breaking his lease with Nassau and moving the team west. The Kansas City Islanders? It just doesn't sound right.

When free agent defenseman Paul Martin asked the team's general manager Garth Snow about the Coliseum during negotiations last month, "Garth said the team was there for five more years," according to Martin's agent, Ben Hankinson.


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