By John Dundon
Some prominent sports executives are reportedly in talks with the New York Islanders’ owners about funding the construction of a new arena for the NHL team at Belmont Park in Elmont.
Potential investors include Sterling Project Development, Madison Square Garden Co. and private equity firm Oak View Group, Bloomberg reported Friday. Sterling is owned by the Wilpon family, who also own the NY Mets, while MSG is run by the Dolan family, who also own the NY Rangers and the NY Knicks. The news follows recent reports that Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano met last fall with Islanders’ ownership to discuss the team returning to the newly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
“The public has been loud and clear that they do not want taxpayer dollars used to fund a sports team, and I believe the Islanders can return to their real home at the new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum without taxpayer dollars,” said Mangano, who pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges in October. “While it’s certainly an interesting proposal for the Rangers to take ownership in the arena of an arch-rival, it would at least bring the Islanders back to Nassau County.”
The Islanders and Madison Square Garden Co. declined to comment. Sterling Project Development and Oak View Group did not respond to requests for comment.
National Hockey League rules permit the owner of a team to have a hand in another team’s arena, so long as that owner has no say in the day-to-day operations of the other team.
Reports surfaced last month that the Islanders appear to be preparing to leave the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where they moved in 2015. Forrest City Ratner, whose subsidiary is renovating the coliseum and will operate it after it reopens in April, also owns the Barclays Center.
The renovations to the coliseum have cut the seating capacity to 13,000 for hockey games, which would be too small to house an NHL team by the league’s current standards. According to sources cited in Bloomberg’s original report on the Isles leaving Barclays Center, team ownership does not see a return to the Uniondale arena as feasible at this time.
Reports surfaced last year that the Isles were in talks with the Wilpon-backed Sterling Project Development in regards to building an arena on the Citi Fields grounds in Flushing. For now, attention seems to be focused on Belmont Park in Elmont. The property at Belmont is currently owned by the New York Racing Association and had been eyed for years as the potential home to a soccer stadium for the New York Cosmos.
One thing that Belmont has that the coliseum doesn’t: a Long Island Rail Road station. Yet the move to the Barclays Center already turned Isles fans’ game-time commutes from a relatively quick drive on the Meadowbrook State Parkway into an hour-long train ride, with a change at Jamaica station depending on the rail line, or a congested rush-hour drive into Brooklyn.
Although the move from Nassau to Brooklyn has made it considerably more difficult for LI-based Islanders fans to see their team play live, many of the team’s most loyal fans re-upped their season ticket plans when the team was bounced from Nassau.
A passionate fan base has done little to improve the Islanders ticket sales. The team currently ranks second to last in the NHL in average home attendance.
“I really just want the arena drama to be over and know where I’ll be able to watch home games for the next 25 years,” said Dan Hodgkiss, who’s had an Islanders season ticket subscription since 2011. “The Isles’ getting a new arena would fix that, so I’m all for it.”