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Isles owner not optimistic on Coliseum, Lighthouse Project

by Brian Compton /
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- New York Islanders owner Charles Wang met with members of the media on Saturday night, doing his best to put a positive spin on the fact that his self-imposed Oct. 3 deadline for the Lighthouse Project was just a few hours away from expiration.

Despite having a new lease in place with Nassau County, Wang's multibillion-dollar project -- which would include a completely renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum -- is still awaiting approval from the Town of Hempstead -- an approval that may never come.

Wang is slated to meet with town Supervisor Kate Murray early next week after the latter phoned the Isles' owner on Friday afternoon. Clearly, when the two sit down, Wang will express his displeasure with the lack of movement from the town board. He'll also deliver a message to Murray face-to-face.

"No more games," a disappointed Wang said on Saturday night at the Coliseum, where his Islanders opened the 2009-10 season against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I want a yes or a no. Tell me what you want, then I can tell you if I can or can not do it. Two years have gone by … we're going to meet now?"

It's certainly disheartening news for Islanders fans who have voiced their support for a project that has been in the works for several years. County Executive Tom Suozzi, who dropped the puck at center ice on Saturday night, is dumbfounded by the lack of movement on Hempstead's part, as well as Murray's phone call to Wang on Friday.

"Why would you call at 4 o'clock in the afternoon the day before the deadline?" Suozzi asked. "It's more about game playing. If you want to get this done, they need to say what they'd like to see happen, and try and get this thing done."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman echoed those frustrations.

"It's a lack of decisiveness, because he's really just looking for a decision," Bettman said in a meeting with the media during the first intermission. "After all this time, to me it's inexplicable. It's really time for the Town of Hempstead to decide one way or the other. We all want to see this project go forward. We think it'd be great for Long Island and Islander fans. But if they're not going to approve it, let's stop playing politics and let Charles put his energy somewhere else.

Throughout the dragged-out process, Wang has been tremendously optimistic that the Lighthouse Project would come to fruition. That optimism seems to be wavering, and may have been at an all-time low on Saturday night -- the same night John Tavares, the first pick in the 2009 Entry Draft -- was making his NHL debut for Wang's club.

"I'm upset because I'm discouraged and disappointed," said Wang, who purchased the Islanders in 2000. "Eight years later, we're still at it. If we continue to play games this way, it will never get done."

And if it doesn't, the Islanders -- at least in Nassau County -- will be no more. There has been rumors of a possible move to nearby Brooklyn or Queens, but Suozzi and the majority of the franchise's fans believe there is only one place where it should reside.

"Mr. Wang has always said that he loves Long Island, (but) he's indicated that he's going to now start exploring other options," Suozzi said. "I'm going to continue to impress upon him how important it is for him to be here on Long Island. We need the Town of Hempstead now to do the same thing."

"I think it's nice that Charles and Tom Suozzi dropped the puck," Bettman said. "They got a nice ovation, and I think that's in recognition of the fact that everybody knows that Nassau County is supporting the Lighthouse Project," Bettman said. "For that, we, Charles, the Islanders are grateful. Everybody knows what Charles has gone through and is going through to make this project a reality. It's really up to Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead to step up."

The Islanders' lease at the Coliseum doesn't expire until 2015, but Bettman declined to speculate as to whether that was a factor in the town's approach.

"I don't want to speculate as to what the reasons are," he said. "Who would have thought that this process has been going on for eight years? The sands in the hourglass continue to fall."

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