It’s official: Long Island’s hometown NHL team, the New York Islanders, are leaving Nassau County in 2015 for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where they signed a 25-year lease.
Isles owner Charles Wang made the rumored announcement shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday 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.
“We tried very hard to keep the Islanders in their original home in Nassau County,” said Wang. “Unfortunately we were unable to achieve that dream.”
Wang, whose Lighthouse Development Project—the largest proposed mixed-use development on LI—has been stalled for years, added that he had spoken to Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano about his decision and reiterated his determination 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. “This has been a very long journey for the Islanders family.”
Mangano 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 taxpayers yet still cost them $2.5 million to hold. He issued a statement that did not mention the 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.”
His Democratic opponents in the county legislature 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.”
Others were more optimistic.
NHL Commissioner Bettman told Islanders fans: “You 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.”
The departure was crushing for diehard Isles fan Leslie Martin, 30, of Hicksville.
“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.”
The Islanders, who possess generations of fans on LI, became an NHL franchise in 1972. Despite the worst record in hockey history its inaugural year, the Isles began their ascent to legendary “Dynasty” status less than a decade later, winning the Stanley Cup four years in a row from 1980 to 1984—a feat only eight other teams have been able to accomplish in the history of the NHL.