About two hundred union workers, a handful of local business leaders and a dozen diehard Islanders fans gathered at the steps of the Nassau County's Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative building today in Mineola before a public hearing on the proposal to build a new arena for the team.
Team owner Charles Wang, GM Garth Snow and Islanders legend/MSG color commentator Butch Goring spoke to the crowd to drum up support to move the referendum to an August 1 vote that would seek $400 million to build a new Coliseum.
The vote on whether the referendum will be placed on the August 1 ballot will take place next Tuesday.
"This turnout today should send a message to our legislators that a destination site is desperately needed for Long Island," Wang said following a speech by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. "We need to take that first step."
Since his Lighthouse Project fell through last season, Wang has started anew with Mangano in pursuing a publicly-funded sports-entertainment complex that also includes a minor-league baseball stadium. When the proposal was first announced earlier this month, Mangano said the plan was devised to "not cost the taxpayers a dime," although the revenue-sharing structure was not made clear.
This latest proposal is likely the most viable chance the Islanders have to remain on Long Island. They are committed to the aging, decrepit Coliseum until 2015, when their lease expires.
"In comparison to every other arena, our fans, sponsors and players are being badly shortchanged. We desperately need a new facility, not only for the Islanders, but as a venue to compete with all the new arenas in the metropolitan New York area," Snow said.
The Islanders finished 14th in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Their poor performance during the first half of the season--which included a 14-game losing streak in October/November--translated to dismal attendance figures, although the sad state of the building certainly did not help.
A second-half surge and slashed ticket prices boosted attendance figures temporarily, but the arena remains a symbol of the uncertainty that looms over the team's future.
"This is about the future of Long Island and the future of the team," said Charlie McAnulla, 34, of Oceanside, who now lives in Brooklyn's Dyker Heights.
McAnulla heard about the rally On Monday night through social networking site Facebook and wanted to lend his support.
Scott Clinco, 18, of Levittown also attended the rally and said he hoped to hear "minimal if any opposition" to the proposal at the hearing.
The Nassau Community College student said he registered to vote last week in anticipation of an August 1 vote.
"If I didn't vote and it gets shot down, I really can't complain about it."
Newsday's business team was also on the team for the rally and hearing. Read Robert Brodsky's story here