The moment has finally arrived for Islander fans. For days, Long Islanders counted down to today's pivotal Referendum Vote for a new arena in Nassau County. New York Islanders team owner Charles Wang pitched his new proposed arena that would keep the Islanders on Long Island. After his pipedream Lighthouse project fell apart, the billionaire reconsidered with an alternative plan for Nassau County to build a $400 million complex on the same land where Nassau Coliseum is, complete with a minor league ballpark.
If a majority Vote Yes, the breakdown would be $350 million for the new arena along with $50 million for the minor league ballpark. Ideally, a yes vote preserves the Islander franchise in Nassau County. However, it's somewhat controversial due to the most heavily taxed county in America having to pony up higher tax costs so the project can be completed. This helps explain why there is plenty of opposition with elected Democrats campaigning against it, which has drawn the ire of a passionate fanbase that would be in a state of panic if it doesn't go through.
Prior to the big vote, rallies were held over the weekend in support of a new arena. The question is does the entire county of Nassau want to push Wang's arena through at the risk of higher taxes, which would come directly out of their wallets. Perhaps that's why it's expected to be close. At last check, a vote of No was ahead according to early polls. At the beginning of the day, light participation seemed to favor the Islanders. However, nothing is etched in stone. Even when it comes to a once proud franchise that won four straight Stanley Cups that's provided Long Islanders with an outlet, you just can't predict what will happen.
The final tally should occur tonight. If it's passed, Islander fans have nothing to worry about. However, in the doomsday scenario, it's hard to say whether a no vote spells the end. As Wang's repeatedly said to anyone who will listen, including a rare public appearance in studio with WFAN's Mike Francesa, he'd have to explore 'other options.' The existing Nassau Coliseum lease expires in 2015. One of the worst leases in sports that prevented the club from taking in any income off concessions- leading to higher ticket and parking costs. Along with a team that hasn't won a playoff round since a Canadian team last won Lord Stanley ('93 Canadiens), this likely explains why the turnout hasn't been good. Not surprisingly, it cost Wang millions.
Understandably so, he's right about Islander fans needing a new state of the art facility. The one avenue that might get lost in the shuffle is that Wang was willing to pony up significant costs if his Lighthouse dream had been approved. He spent a ton on marketing a wonderful concept that was unrealistic in today's economy. Now, the once part-time owner who took over full ownership in 2004 after buying out former partner Sanjay Kumar, wants Nassau County to deliver him a new arena without anything coming out of his pocket. Does that sound fair? As much as I have supported the latest proposal with even the Rangers and Devils encouraging Long Island to vote yes, I can't totally agree with Wang getting an arena that eventually could run as much as $800 million over 30 years. It almost reminds of the Brooklyn Dodgers with Walter O'Malley daring Robert Moses not to lend support to a new stadium in Brooklyn. The rest is ancient history. Hopefully, Long Island won't suffer a similar cruel fate if today's referendum gets voted down.
There are alternatives like possibly relocating to Brooklyn ironically enough where the Nets will move next year. Aside from basketball, the complex will also include ice surface for making, which would allow hockey to be played at Barclays Center. While it's still far fetched, at least the Islanders could be saved if Wang decides to sell to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Another slim possibility would be to move the franchise to Queens where the Mets play at the beautiful Citi Field. However, given The Wilpons financial woes due to Bernie Madoff, that seems like a pipe dream.
As a rival fan who's always enjoyed Rangers/Islanders, I can only hope no matter what transpires, the Isles stay put in Long Island. It's where they belong. Relocation would be terrible for the metro area, who have always supported three teams. It's what separates New York/New Jersey from other places. Having the Devils, Islanders and Rangers close together has been a blessing for hockey. I can't bare the thought of losing a franchise rich in tradition with loyal fans, who deserve better. Here's one vote for common sense.