In their 40th year as Long Island’s hometown NHL team, the Stanley Cup dynasty-winning New York Islanders announced Wednesday the franchise will be moving to Brooklyn’s recently opened Barclays Center in 2015, where they signed a 25-year lease.
Isles owner Charles Wang made the rumored announcement at the Barclays Center, where he was joined by 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.
“Hello, Brooklyn!” he shouted to a sea of reporters as he took the podium—a greeting repeated by Ratner and Markowitz before their remarks.
“We tried very hard to keep the Islanders in their original home in Nassau County,” said Wang, also the former founding CEO of Islandia-based computer software giant CA, Inc. “Unfortunately we were unable to achieve that dream.”
Wang added that he informed Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano Wednesday morning about his decision and reiterated his pledge to make the Nassau Hub, where the Isles’ home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is located, a “destination.”
“He was surprised, obviously, very disappointed,” said Wang of the county exec. “This has been a very long journey for the Islanders family.”
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 but within less than a decade 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 since the NHL’s founding in 1917.
Throughout the succeeding decades the Isles 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. The Isles will retain their name when they move to Brooklyn, since the borough is still geographically on Long Island.
Mangano, a Republican, spearheaded an Aug. 1, 2011 public referendum on a proposed $400 million taxpayer-funded reconstruction of the arena and its surrounding area that was rejected by county residents, yet still cost them $2.5 million to hold.
The bid was widely viewed as a life preserver to keep the Islanders on Long Island, since Wang had threatened to relocate the team if the Coliseum was not replaced by the time its lease was up in 2015. Its 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 project at the Hub.
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.”
Mangano issued a statement Wednesday that did not mention the hockey franchise by name, but stated he would soon be announcing the selection of an economic development team “who will serve as a catalyst in redeveloping the Hub into a vibrant destination and job creation center.”
Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Murray also issued a statement following the Isles’ announcement, which included: “I am disappointed to learn of the Islanders’ plan to relocate to Brooklyn. They’ve been a valued part of this region’s identity, and we wish the team great success in the future. We hope Long Islanders will continue to cheer for the team… Though we regret the Islanders’ decision to relocate, we remain committed to development at the Nassau Veterans Coliseum site that makes sense for our region and our residents.”
Democrats were quick to pounce.
“This is a sad day for Nassau County and unfortunately another crippling hit to our local economy,” Nassau Democratic Leader Kevan Abrahams said in a statement shortly after the relocation news. “To lose the Islanders, Nassau’s only professional sports franchise, is an epic failure of leadership at all levels. We must immediately start working on new ideas for the Hub so that the Coliseum does not sit as a crumbling eyesore for generations.”
“It’s tremendously disappointing,” Nassau Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs tells the Press. “It’s another financial blow to Nassau County, and it’s a reflection on county leadership.
“This is the center point of entertainment activity in the county and it’s just been given a death sentence,” he adds.
Even still, says Des Ryan, executive director of Association for a Better Long Island and an outspoken opponent of last year’s referendum, Mangano at least tried.
“Ed Mangano did something Charles Wang never did,” he tells the Press. “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,” continues Ryan. “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?’” he asks.
John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor and a staunch proponent of the failed 2011 bid, says there’s enough blame to go around for the leaders of both political parties—with fans paying the ultimate price.
“I think it’s an absolute shame,” he says. “The loss of the Islanders can be laid at the doorsteps of both political parties. It’s a disgrace that the people of Long Island are going to be deprived of their team. It’s just a horrendous thing for the economy of Nassau County. It would be easy to blame Charles Wang but it’s not as if he didn’t try to get this thing done.
There were mistakes made—everybody gets that—on many sides.
“We have to start all over again and say, ‘Okay, what are we going to do with that property?’” continues Durso. “We can’t have a giant skateboard park for the kids. That’s not going to put the thousands of workers who need jobs back to work.”
“When it was a Republican administration, Democrats weren’t supporting it,” he adds. “When it was a Democratic administration, Republicans weren’t supporting it. Who are the losers? The people of this county and the families of the construction workers who could’ve gone to work to rebuild that Coliseum, and the fans.”
Others were more optimistic.
At Wednesday’s press conference, NHL Commissioner Bettman told Islanders fans that now they “don’t have to worry about the future of the club, the club is staying local, you’ll be able to get here locally.”
“Charles Wang is the real hero today,” said Ratner. “He has kept this team in New York State.”
David Pennetta, president and chairman of the economic development committee at the Commercial Industrial Brokers Society of Long Island, is already looking to the future.
“I think it’s finally over, which is a good thing, because it’s been inhibiting any other movement on that development piece,” he tells the Press. “It’s something that was never financially viable to stand on its own, and it always needed additional development there to support the cost of redoing the Coliseum. Trying to get the islanders to stay has been holding this up for years.
“They’re leaving,” he continues. “We can now focus on economic development, which is going to create, in the short term, construction, engineering and architectural jobs.”
For Islanders fans, news of the retreat evoked mixed emotions.
Leslie Martin, 30, of Hicksville, is crushed.
“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.”
Harris Peskin, 21, who lives in Brooklyn, grew up in Syosset and whose father has had season tickets since 1972, was also saddened—though he’s happy it’s Brooklyn and not Kansas City or Quebec, two other locations long bandied about as possible destinations.
“It’s really disappointing to me, because Nassau County, it’s the home of the New York Islanders, there they won four straight Stanley Cups—all the memories that I’ve had going there to the games with my family, my father telling me where he was sitting when he watched the games—it was something really special and I hoped that one day I would be able to replicate that with any future family I might have,” he says. “In the end, politics prevailed and they couldn’t get anything built there.”
Thirty five-year-old lifelong Isles fan Charles Mcanulla, another LI transplant to Brooklyn, is excited.
“The Barclays Center is a beautiful area,” he tells the Press, adding this jab: “I don’t know where Kate Murray is going to be three years from now, but I know where the Islanders will be in 25 years.”