In their 40th anniversary year as Long Island’s hometown NHL franchise, the Stanley Cup dynasty-winning New York Islanders will announce today that the team is moving to Brooklyn’s recently opened Barclays Center, according to numerous reports in metropolitan media outlets.
New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, Barclays Majority Owner and Developer Bruce Ratner, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Isles General Manager Garth Snow and New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg are set to make the “major announcement” at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Barclays Center.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who held a much-publicized public referendum on the revitalization of the team’s home, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, on Aug. 1, 2011, did not return requests for comment. Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray declined to comment pending the official announcement.
If successful, that bid would have cost taxpayers about $400 million and was widely viewed as a life preserver to keep the Islanders on Long Island, since Wang had threatened to relocate the team if the arena was not replaced by the time its lease was up in 2015. The referendum was ultimately rejected by Nassau taxpayers, though still cost them $2.5 million to hold.
That nix was the latest for Wang, who with RXR Corp. developer Scott Rechler, had been struggling for years with getting the necessary local approvals for their Lighthouse Development Project at the Nassau Hub, the largest proposed mixed-use development on LI.
As reported in a July 28 Press cover story analyzing the coliseum revitalization plan and the Lighthouse project’s stalemate: “Bitter partisan politics between then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Wang’s stubborn refusal to accept anything less than his complete vision of the Lighthouse project, married with an increasingly difficult lending environment, spelled the proposal’s demise.”
The Islanders, who possess generations of fans on LI, became a franchise in 1972. The fledgling expansion team started its NHL career with the worst record in hockey history. Less than a decade later, however, the Isles began their ascent to legendary “Dynasty” status within the league—winning the Stanley Cup four years in a row from 1980 to 1984, a feat only eight other teams have been able to accomplish in the history of the NHL.
Throughout the succeeding decades the team had flashes of greatness mixed with fan frustration regarding management and the crumbling state of the aging coliseum. The team finished last season 27th in the league and 14th in the east, last in the division.
“Bloomberg and Bettman have the press conference scheduled and we can only assume it is what it is,” Des Ryan, executive director of Association for a Better Long Island and an outspoken opponent of the referendum, tells the Press. “Ed Mangano did something Charles Wang never did. He moved past the referendum vote and heard the taxpayers about what they wanted and what they didn’t want. But the owner of the Islanders continued to sulk for the past 18 months. And this move to Brooklyn is a reflection of the fact that he never got over the fact that the taxpayers didn’t want to pick up the bill for his real estate deal.
“That’s plain and simple and that’s the point we had said all along: this had nothing to do with a hockey team; this was a real estate deal,” he continues. “And that was the message that got lost in the whole situation. The fact that [Wang] is moving to Brooklyn is an opportunity for Nassau County to redevelop that property to make it a focal point of the county and a showcase of comprehensive economic development and good planning that will only benefit the region moving forward.
“This will be the final wake-up call for the Town of Hempstead because as they say in the vernacular: ‘Now what?’” adds Ryan.
The New York Islanders will move to the Barclays Center by 2015 but will retain their name, according to the New York Post, citing sources close to the deal.
For diehard Isles fan Leslie Martin, 30, of Hicksville, the news is crushing.
“I am disappointed that more wasn’t done to keep the team in Nassau County,” she tells the Press. “It’s hard to give up my season tickets when I’m used to attending 40-plus games each year. I think this is only going to hurt Nassau County and the people who reside therein.”