"With respect to the Islanders, Charles Wang has been incredible owning that club. I know the fans wish that the club would have more success on the ice, and they will. Obviously, they have the No. 1 pick this year. But in terms of his support, financially and emotionally, and his support of Long Island, no one could have done more."
-- Gary Bettman
On the eve of New York Islanders
owner Charles Wang's meeting Friday with the Hempstead town supervisor over his proposed Lighthouse Project, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman urged a new arena must be built for the Islanders.
Wang has proposed turning the 150-acre site of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the surrounding property into a $3.74 billion suburban center featuring a new arena, transportation hub, 2,300 residences in a wide variety of options, and a retail and entertainment district. The plan also includes one million square feet of office space, an athletic complex, conference and exhibition facilities, a minor-league baseball park and Long Island's first five-star hotel.
"At some point, the lease will be over and the team won't have to play in that building," Bettman said on the NHL Hour, his weekly Thursday afternoon radio broadcast on NHL.com. "I sure hope there is an alternative for them to play in, because I have no expectation that they will stay in that building one minute longer than they have to. And, you know what? They shouldn't have to. There has to be a new building arrangement. There simply has to be."
Wang and fellow Lighthouse Developer Scott Rechler are scheduled to meet Friday at 11 a.m. with Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray at the office of County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi in Mineola, N.Y. They are scheduled to be available to the media immediately following the meeting.
The Islanders' lease, signed in 1985, states the team "can't play any home game during the regular season anywhere but the Nassau Coliseum, which is owned by the county, until 2015," according to an article published earlier this year in SportsBusiness Daily.
Wang has said the Lighthouse Project will create more than 75,000 construction jobs over its eight-year planned life, plus 19,000 permanent jobs from the new businesses to be created.
Bettman left no doubt that Wang has his full support in his effort to begin the Lighthouse Project and build a new arena. The new Coliseum would seat 17,500 for hockey and 20,000 for concerts.
"With respect to the Islanders, Charles Wang has been incredible owning that club," Bettman said. "I know the fans wish that the club would have more success on the ice, and they will. Obviously, they have the No. 1 pick this year. But in terms of his support, financially and emotionally, and his support of Long Island, no one could have done more."
A little later in the broadcast, an Islanders fan spoke to Bettman about his frustration with a local lawmaker who he said won't say whether she supports the project. The fan said he thinks politicians should level with voters. Bettman took a diplomatic approach.
"I'm not sure that it's a good idea to personalize this to any particular politician," Bettman said in response. "If you are a fan of the Islanders or if you happen to be a resident of Long Island, and think the Lighthouse Project is a good, sensible thing, not just for the arena, but as a hub for Nassau County, as an economic engine during a recession, I think you need to let your local politicians know. Because, in the final analysis, hopefully, there will be an opportunity for everybody to vote on this -- meaning the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County -- so that there will be a final decision as to whether or not this project can go forward. It needs to go forward. It's taken, Lord knows, long enough, too long.
"Charles Wang, when he said he was sorry he bought the club, it wasn't because he doesn't love the Islanders or hockey, it was because he couldn't believe it would take this many years to not have a new building. It's important to let your politicians, your local governmental leaders, know your feelings."