Forget a return to Nassau Coliseum or continuing long-term at Barclays Center. The Islanders' owners have one goal right now, and that's to build the team's future home at Belmont Park.
Before the New York Islanders could even complete their first season at Barclays Center in 2015-16, there were already rumblings about where the franchise could head next. Poor seating, obstructed views and substandard ice conditions have all been topics of conversation when it comes to the Brooklyn-based arena.
Invariably, when the subject of a new home for the Islanders would come up, there would be a chorus of Islanders faithful suggesting a return to Nassau Coliseum, New York’s former home and a building that played host to the Islanders for more than 40 years. In part, the cries for a return to Long Island came from a feeling of nostalgia — the Islanders had their most successful years, including their early '80s Stanley Cup dynasty, at Nassau Coliseum — while others simply wanted the team to return to a building that was better served to host hockey.
No matter how desperately fans want the Islanders to return to the old barn, though, there isn’t any plan in place to make that a reality. In fact, Jon Ledecky, co-owner of the Islanders alongside Scott Malkin, couldn’t have been more clear when asked Tuesday about the possibility of the Islanders returning to Long Island.
“Barclays is a wonderful place, but unfortunately at the time it was built, they decided not to configure it for hockey,” Ledecky said, according to the New York Times’ Allan Kreda. “And Nassau Coliseum is a lovely spot, but the commissioner of the NHL is on public record saying it is not viable for an NHL team. So that wouldn’t be a home either. We have to have a focus on a place that will be our home. That’s Belmont Park.”
It’s not just Nassau Coliseum or Barclays Center that are being overlooked for Belmont Park, however. To hear Ledecky tell it, there’s nothing else even on the radar. He said building an arena at Belmont Park is the organization's “singular focus” and that talk “about going here, there and everywhere else is absolute noise to us right now.”
The Islanders submitted their proposal for an arena at Belmont Park, which is located between Queens and Nassau County, in late September as part of a group known as New York Arena Partners, LLC., which also includes MLB’s New York Mets and the Oak View Group. There doesn’t appear to be any timeline for the Islanders to know the status of their bid, however.
"We have not received any formal or informal communication about a timeline," Ledecky said, according to NHL.com’s Brian Compton. "We obviously hope it will be sooner rather than later and we would hope that our proposal is the best proposal. We don't know if they've seen three or 10 or five, but we certainly put a lot of time and resources and effort and the arena partnership group did in making a first-class presentation…We want Belmont to be our permanent home.”
Winning the bid is one thing, though. Building an arena and getting it prepared for NHL competition is another story. Doing so would take an additional year-plus, with Ledecky giving an estimate of 20 months from the time the first shovel hits the dirt. Conservatively, the 20-month timeline, plus the time necessary to get the bid accepted, would put the Islanders close to 30 months out from having a new home. On that timeline, the Islanders' new building would be set to open around the end of the 2019-20 season. So, what happens in the interim?
For now, the plan is for the Islanders to continue playing at Barclays Center. Contractually, it’s the only option they have. Ledecky said the current deal with the arena, which was initially signed as a 25-year lease, locks the Islanders in for at least the 2017-18 campaign. Following this year, New York could trigger an opt-out clause and find a new place to play, but Ledecky said that the Islanders will spend the 2018-19 season at Barclays Center, as well. Once the 2018-19 campaign is complete, however, Barclays Center would be able to trigger the opt-out and leave the Islanders without a home if there’s no new arena in place.
That said, there’s a possibility that the Islanders and Barclays Center, which also plays host to and was designed for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, could work out some sort of pact to keep the team in Brooklyn for another year. Ledecky did suggest the two sides would, at the very least, talk about what an extension would look like, according to Kreda.
No matter where it is the Islanders play come 2019-20, though, that there is movement towards a new area, one designed with the NHL in mind, is a step in the right direction for the organization. And if the Islanders, along with the Mets and Oak View Group, win the bid to develop Belmont Park, it could finally, at long last, put an end to what has been an arena saga that has plagued the Islanders almost from the moment the team stepped foot onto Barclays Center ice for the first time.
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