Nassau County, Islanders announce new arena plan

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders may finally be getting a new arena.

Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano on Wednesday announced a major economic and job creation plan -- one that includes building a state-of-the-art facility to replace the aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Joined by Islanders owner Charles Wang and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, Mangano announced that the decision would be left to the residents of Nassau County – on Aug. 1, there will be a public referendum is scheduled for Aug. 1 that will decide whether a new facility is built – and the fate of Long Island's only professional sports team. The Isles' lease with Nassau County expires in 2015.

"Today's a great day for Nassau County," Mangano told a crowd of supporters at the Coliseum. "This time, it's the real deal. The time is now."

Should the voters approve of the estimated $400 million bond, construction would begin on the Islanders' new home in 2012 and would open in time for the 2015-16 season. In his deal with Nassau County, Wang has agreed to compensate residents by paying the county a share of each dollar generated at the new arena. The Islanders would also sign a new lease with Nassau County that would keep them on Long Island through 2045.

Wang has tried for a decade to land a new building for his club. He invested millions of his own dollars into the Lighthouse Project -- a proposal that featured a refurbished Coliseum, as well as residential and office buildings along with shops and restaurants -- but that was rejected last year by the Town of Hempstead.

But with Nassau County in dire need of new tax revenue, Mangano unveiled his plan for a new arena on Wednesday. The county needs its residents to take a leap of faith and help Long Island join the dozens of other markets that have built state-of-the-art arenas over the last decade. Nassau Coliseum opened its doors in the spring of 1972 and has been the Isles’ home since they entered the NHL that fall.

"I think in life, it's what we do," said Wang, who has owned the team since 2000. "It was a leap to keep the Islanders on Long Island, and we did that. There is obviously risks involved in anything you do. We have to do something for Long Island -- not just for the Islanders."

Newsday reported on Tuesday night that this deal would create 3,300 construction jobs alone, evidence that a new arena would benefit more than just Wang and the Islanders. But from a hockey perspective, a new building is key for a club that hasn't been able to lure big-time free agents in recent years.

"If you ask any of the players -- whether they're on our team currently or when it was time to make their decision -- the big question has always been, 'What's going to happen after 2015? That's what makes today such a special day," Isles GM Garth Snow said. "The stability is there now. It will be a big bonus for us as an organization."

"Once players know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak; they see there's hope and so forth -- I think it makes a big difference," Wang said. "We can now answer the question and say, 'Here's what we're doing about a new arena.' Players always ask us, 'Are you getting a new arena? What's going on? Where's home going to be?' Now, at least they'll have, 'Here are the steps.' They can monitor it going forward."

Still, the Islanders aren't out of the woods yet. They need the residents of Nassau County to show their support at voting booths on Aug. 1. Rick DiPietro, who just completed the fifth season of his mammoth 15-year contract, is hopeful the Islanders will still be in Uniondale -- the new arena will be built next to the current Coliseum -- in 2015.

"I don't want to jinx it ... I'm sitting here with my fingers crossed and my toes crossed and my shoes," DiPietro said. "But this is an exciting time. I think everyone that is a part of this organization or a part of this fan base, this community deserves to have something like this development. This is a huge piece of property on Long Island that can generate nothing but excitement, jobs and revenues. I just hope that at the end of the day, it all gets done."

If and when it does, it will be a special time for Wang, who has lived in New York since his family moved from Shanghai when he was 8. He looks forward to the day when rumors of the Islanders moving out of town will no longer exist.

"This is our home. We want to stay here," Wang said. "I've been saying this for 10 years -- this is my home. I want to stay here. The Islanders want to stay here. Work with us, we'll get it done. We'll do everything we can to make it work."

Added DiPietro: "I'm excited for everybody involved. The people of Long Island deserve it and Charles definitely deserves it. He's invested a lot of time and effort and money into this franchise to keep it on Long Island. I'm sure there's been opportunities for him to deviate from his plan to keep the team here, but he stuck strong. I'm fully behind him."


Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL