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Islanders bid for new arena defeated at polls

Tuesday, 08.02.2011 / 12:12 AM / News

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Islanders bid for new arena defeated at polls
Nassau County residents voted down a $400 million referendum in Monday's special election that could have led to the construction of a new home for the New York Islanders.
Nassau County residents voted down a $400 million referendum in Monday's special election that could have led to the construction of a new home for the New York Islanders.

The referendum failed in a 33,526 to 24,553 vote Monday in what elections officials said was a very low turnout for the unusual midsummer election.

"I have to tell you I'm disappointed," team owner Charles Wang said during a concession speech at the team's media reception. "And, to put it bluntly, I'm heartbroken."

County officials who supported the effort said a yes vote was needed to give officials enough time to build a replacement for the aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum before the Isles' lease expires in 2015. Without a new building, Wang has said he may have to move the team out of Nassau County, either to another site on Long Island or to another market.

Turnout was extremely light on Monday as only about 15 percent of residents turned out to vote before polls closed at 9 p.m. Bad weather in the afternoon and trouble with Long Island Rail Road service may have contributed to low turnout, according to observers.

Proponents of the project, including labor unions, tourism officials and many business groups, argued that the project will bring jobs and spark economic growth. Opponents, though, won the vote, insisting that already heavily taxed residents should not have to foot the bill for the arena project.

The plan, if approved, would have the county borrow the $400 million through a general obligation bond.

With the Barclays Center opening next year and Madison Square Garden undergoing a complete renovation, the departure of the Islanders would likely mean the eventual demise of the Coliseum, the only home the team has had since entering the NHL in 1972. The Islanders recently asked the county for $4 million dollars for a series of repairs, including fixes to the roof, some lower-bowl seating and the ice plant.

Wang has been trying to find a new place for the Islanders to play instead of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which opened in 1972.

The most prominent of Wang's plans was deemed "The Lighthouse Project," but the owner was unable to gain approval for the plan from the Town of Hempstead. The project -- which would have been privately financed -- came with an estimated cost of $3.74 billion that included a refurbished Coliseum, a minor-league baseball stadium and various other housing, hotels and businesses in the area.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a proponent of the plan, spoke to those gathered at a rally at the Coliseum after the vote was announced. He said he still believes in the project and says that supporters will continue to look for a way to make a sports-entertainment destination a reality in the county.

The Islanders have a lease with Nassau Coliseum through 2015.


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