Future of the Islanders hangs in the balance of Aug. 1 vote

This is what the new Nassau Coliseum could look like if voters in Nassau County vote "yes" on Monday to a proposed referendum that would see a $350-million redevelopment for a new arena and $50-million for a minor league baseball stadium at nearby Mitchel Field.

From the rendering, you can't see inside the arena, but I would imagine there's plenty of elbow room on the concourses, no leaky roof or broken down chairs that have seen the days of Trottier, Nystrom, Gillies, Smith, and Potvin.

August 1 represents the end of the rope that New York Islanders owner Charles Wang has been clinging to trying to get a new arena built. Wang says he's lost $230 million in the 11 years he's owned the Islanders and with the continued losses has tried numerous times to find a way to build a new home.

A majority "no" vote on Monday would mean Wang either looking elsewhere -- Queens, Brooklyn or outside of New York -- or the potential that he's done losing money and putting the team up for sale.

The most recent idea, the Lighthouse Project, was a grandiose plan that featured condominiums, restaurants, shopping, and hotels was approved -- after a scaling down --through all the levels of Nassau County politics, but stalled over a zoning issue with the Town of Hempstead.

In May, Wang and Nassau County executive Ed Mangano unveiled the latest plan emphasizing job creation revenue creation for the budget-strapped county who's recent unemployment rate was 6.9-percent.

There's been plenty of debate from both sides. The side that's anti-taxpayers paying for stadiums and the side that sees what the true loss of the Islanders would mean to the community.

The New York Post's Larry Brooks isn't a fan of taxpayers paying for stadiums for billionaires and believes that a "no" vote tomorrow doesn't necessarily kill the idea of the Islanders staying in New York:

Wang was willing to spend an enormous amount of his own money not only to build Lighthouse, but to campaign for it. He is not, however, willing to spend $350 million of his own money to build a new arena.

He doesn't explain why. He just wants the county to build it for him.

If you think that paying for a new coliseum yourself is the only way to keep the Islanders here, and if you believe that's a worthy investment, then by all means cast your vote that way in the referendum.

Just as long as you're aware that there almost certainly are going to be other options to keep the Islanders where they belong, in New York, if the referendum goes down, even if not necessarily in Nassau County.

George Vecsey of the New York Times wonders in these tough economic times if an arena project is worth it when there are cuts in so many other places:

The Islanders molder, like a suburban house whose owners cannot afford the upkeep. Wang tried to link the residual affection for a vanished team with a grandiose $3.8 billion Lighthouse project for an arena and urban center with housing and transportation. Now he just wants Nassau to pass a bond to build a new arena, and he promises to pay the cost over-runs. Wise heads are telling him to post a performance bond.

Normally, I am on the side of public projects. I'm all for high-speed railroads and repairing the infrastructure, but not so sure about an arena for a hockey team.

This proposal reminds me of how New York City lobbied to host the 2012 Summer Olympics based on building an all-purpose stadium on the West Side of Manhattan. The Olympic powers rejected it, rightfully so. All the evidence tells me that big-box arenas and stadiums are often a mom-and-pop proposition for jobs and create dead spaces, just like Nassau Coliseum.

According to the plan Mangano and Wang presented in May, the $400-million being asked from taxpayers will be paid back trough revenue-sharing over a 30-year lease. According to an independent economic developer, $1.2-billion will be generated in gross revenue over the term. There will be $350-million of that going towards construction costs and $433-million to paying off debt, which leaves $403-million going back to taxpayers. Approximately, 1.5-percent of every dollar generated will go back to residents of Nassau County.

Nick Giglia of Let There Be Lighthouse weighs everything in the balance and most importantly, just what the cost would be:

This referendum must not be considered against a now-dead development proposal; it must be weighed against the cost of doing nothing.

Independent reviews have cut through the scare tactics and presented us with a stark choice. For example, the Office of Legislative and Budget Review pegs the cost of a new arena at a maximum of $13.80 per household per year.

The cost of doing nothing and losing the Islanders and Nassau Coliseum? $16 per household per year, with $243 million and 2,660 jobs projected to disappear from the Nassau County economy should the team move and the arena be shuttered. When presented with that choice, how can you choose nothing over something?

The Islanders and the county caught a break being able to schedule the vote on a Monday in the middle of summer with voters in vacation mode and an expectant turnout not as close to what it would be had it been planned for Election Day in November.

So it's up to Nassau County voters on Monday to decide if they're better off with a revenue-generating arena for the next 30 years or let Nassau Coliseum's main tenant leave, thereby losing millions in potential tax revenues and more importantly, jobs.

Photo credit: New York Islanders

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