Tuesday is a rather important day in the New York Islanders franchise and one that will play a role in the team's future in New York. At 9:30 a.m., the Town of Hempstead (ToH) will hold a public hearing regarding Charles Wang's Lighthouse Project, the development plan that includes a massive renovation of the Islanders current home the Nassau Coliseum.
An hour and a half before the hearing, the Islanders will be a hosting a rally in the parking lot of Nassau Coliseum featuring Wang, current Islanders players Josh Bailey(notes) and Joel Rechlicz(notes), team alumni, and local politicians who support the plan. Commissioner Gary Bettman will be there as well, but it's unsure if he'll be present at the rally or the hearing. Once the "Just Build It" rally concludes, the crowd will march a short distance, en masse, to Hofstra University where the hearing will be held inside an auditorium that's capacity is 1,000 and sure to have its limits tested on Tuesday morning.
Chris Botta of Islanderspointblank.com was with the team for over 20 years and was formerly their Vice President of Communications up until they parted ways after the 2007-08 season. Botta was with the team when Wang started the Lighthouse campaign and has been trumpeting for the cause since his departure, keeping fans abreast of the latest Project happenings.
Coming up, we ask Botta about the Lighthouse Project, the potential aftereffects of Tuesday's hearing, and whether or not there's a future for the team on Long Island.
Q. For those readers who haven't been following the drama surrounding the Lighthouse Project, there's some opposition. Charles Wang has been pushing it for a few years now. Gary Bettman has stated the Islanders need an updated home. New York governor David Paterson held a press conference in support of the project last week. With all the power people behind it, who's standing in the way and why?
BOTTA: That's the big mystery, Sean. Maybe we'll finally find out on Tuesday if there is any major opposition. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on big development deals, but it's been kind of astounding how little public crap-throwing there's been against the Lighthouse Project. I've been to just about every public event surrounding the project.
Here's one example: there was an "information" session at the Long Island Marriott during the last hockey season. The meeting was promoted all over the place, everyone for and against were encouraged to come out and ask questions. I'd estimate a thousand people showed up. Other than this one couple who muttered something incoherent about how the project blows, everyone else was supportive. That's been the case at every Hempstead Town Hall meeting.
Charles Schumer has come out in support, now Paterson. At the Paterson presser last Monday, you should have seen the politicians elbowing each other to get a better spot in the photo op. Not one politician on either side of the aisle has come out strongly against it. The media has ranged from quiet to supportive. Newsday's editorial board loves it. I sat in meetings with them a few years ago. The project couldn't be big enough for them, the development couldn't be mega enough.
That's what makes Tuesday so intriguing. You know the supporters will be there - especially the Islanders fans, the Nassau residents who understand the positive impact on employment and taxes, and of course the unions. But you'd think if there is going to be any formal opposition from groups in the Town of Hempstead, Tuesday is their chance. There's been a little buzz that a NIMBY association from Garden City could be there, but there's no word for sure. Should be fun either way.
Q. Tuesday morning there will be a large rally in support of the Lighthouse Project with fans, politicians and the Islanders marching from the Nassau Coliseum to Hofstra University where a Town of Hempstead public hearing will commence. This is the chance for Islanders fans to show those making the decision how much they want this to go through. In your estimation, how many do you think will attend in support? How do you think an incredibly large showing of supporters will speed up the process?
Yeah, the Islanders are even bringing out Joel "The Wrecker" Rechlicz and Josh Bailey and some other players and alumni to take part. It's starting at 8:00 am in the Coliseum parking lot. Charles Wang is going to speak. I know Gary Bettman is coming down to support, but that could be as part of the formal hearing.
Look, it's a Tuesday -- a work day -- and for the fans who want to be at the rally and march en masse to Hofstra for the hearing, that's a full-day commitment. I'm sure everyone understands that's a lot to ask. But I've heard from a lot of fans on Point Blank and other Islanders blogs that they're doing everything they can to be there.
A typical reaction was the text I got today from my oldest buddy. We grew up together in Hicksville, went to a lot of hockey games and concerts at the Coli. He decided he's going to use one of his treasured vacation days because he doesn't want to regret passing on the chance to make a difference. His kids now love the Islanders, and taking them to the games on his partial plan is a big part of their lives.
Besides the fans, there will be plenty of people there who will support. As I mentioned, I'd be very disappointed if the unions fail to put on a major show with signs and chants. Tens of thousands of jobs are at stake. The theatre at Hofstra where they're holding the hearing has a capacity of about 1,000. People may have to come and go during the hearing, which starts at 9:30 am and could go till at least 5:00 pm. But that theatre will be full most of the day. The supporters will be there in big numbers. Again, what should be fascinating is whether an organized opposition makes an impact. I truly believe that by the end of that hearing you're going to have a much clearer idea on whether the Islanders will be on Nassau County for the next generation.
You've been behind the Project since day one and you've seen the amount of support rapidly increase. In your gut, does this get done? If, for some reason, the worst should happen, does Wang explore other opportunities on Long Island or does Kansas City (or another welcoming city) then come into play?
I believe that in the end it will get done. Maybe not 100 percent, as directed by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and developed by Wang and Scott Rechler, but enough to finalize a deal and make everyone happy.
Something to watch out for, though: Wang has stated publicly that he wants "certainty" from the Town of Hempstead by the regular season opener on October 3. When Charles was on WFAN with Mike Francesa two weeks ago, he sounded optimistic that he would have his certainty by then. I'm not so sure. I'm not as optimistic the ToH will get it done by then.
If I'm right, one possible scenario is that Wang sees enough progress to say that he'll give it a little more time. But Charles is a man of his word and a man who keeps his deadlines. He will do everything possible to make it work with Hempstead and Nassau until then. I have no doubt he has instructed his staff to not even take a call from any place outside of Nassau. Oct. 3 is a Saturday. After all this time, if he does not get satisfaction by then, there's a great chance his staff is setting up meetings on Monday, Oct. 5 with any municipality that wants a National Hockey League team.
Charles Wang had lived on Long Island for a long time. He's committed to keeping the Islanders here. He's also lost an incredible amount of money because of the outdatedness of Nassau Coliseum. He's already revised the Lighthouse plans in this process; How much scaling back of the Lighthouse Project can he afford to do in order to make the entire thing worthwhile?
That's a big question. I don't have the answer. I don't think Wang knows either right now. What he has said is that he wants a yes or no from the ToH by October 3. And if the answer is no but there are changes you want him and Rechler to consider, let him know in detail and they will take a look at it.
I would think the politicians want to show their residents that they are looking out for them. I could see the Town asking for some changes, saying they are doing it in response to their public. It all depends - are these tweaks or major overhauls? If it's big stuff, they won't have a deal.
But right now, that's negative thinking. Tuesday is monumental, every bit as big as the drafting of John Tavares(notes). We know all about the supporters. Maybe when the public hearing is over, you'll be able to count the naysayers on two hands at most. Wouldn't that be something?