The Islanders are playing their final regular season home game in Uniondale, as the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum’s anchor tenant, on April 11, just like nearly three out of five Nassau voters wanted them to.
The Islanders’ lease at the Coliseum concludes at the end of the 2014-15 National Hockey League (NHL) season, a fact widely known in 2011, when 57 percent of Nassau’s voters rejected, in a nonbinding referendum, a Mangano administration proposal to have the county’s taxpayers borrow $400 million.
Had the public, and then the county Legislature and Nassau’s Interim Finance Authority, approved this investment, those monies would have been used to construct a new Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, as well as a minor-league baseball stadium near Nassau Community College. The latter facility would have housed an Atlantic League team comparable to Central Islip’s Long Island Ducks, who have been consistently filling the 6,000-plus seat Bethpage Ballpark since 2000.
Yes, repaying the borrowed money to build a new Coliseum and a new baseball stadium would have resulted in a “tax increase,” as the chairman of Nassau’s Democratic Party repeatedly told the public four years ago, believing it would give his county legislative candidates a chance to regain a majority of seats in the county Legislature in 2011. Alas, both the Islanders and the Democrats lost at the polls that year, with the county’s Democrats remaining in Mineola’s legislative minority to this day.
Nonetheless, the results of the 2011 referendum set into motion a series of events, which sent the Coliseum’s most prestigious tenant—and Nassau’s only major league sports franchise—to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center starting this fall for at least the next 25 years. In a strange twist, Cablevision-owned Newsday published an editorial favoring the 2011 referendum’s passage, perhaps because Cablevision’s decision-makers were concerned the Islanders would move into the city to compete with the Madison Square Garden (MSG) Company-owned New York Rangers. The MSG Company is a corporate spin-off of Cablevision, and its MSG Networks telecast Islanders games. An aside: the MSG Networks’ Islanders ratings grew 26 percent through the first 42 games of this season, as compared to the previous year, as the Isles’ on-ice fortunes improved, with nearly 114,000 viewers regularly tuning in.
After it became clear the Islanders were moving, Nassau’s executive and legislative branches agreed to have Forest City Ratner Companies overhaul the Coliseum and they’ll be making the biggest renovations to the structure since it opened in 1972. Live musical entertainment will return to the Coliseum when the work has been done, as will sporting events, such as college basketball. But a major league sports franchise is not planting roots in Nassau County any time soon. Sports fans who bemoan that fact need to acknowledge a majority of Nassau’s residents are dry-eyed about the Islanders’ departure, no matter what level of media-manufactured nostalgia you’ll be reading and hearing.
There is hope, however, for Nassau’s professional hockey fans, if a March 1, 2015, story in The Connecticut Post has merit (‘Sound Tigers could be on the move as AHL experiences upheaval,’ the headline read). The Bridgeport, CT, Sound Tigers are the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate, and a Sound Tigers move to Nassau’s refurbished Coliseum has been rumored for some time. Today, their home games are played at Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena. The “upheaval” in the AHL references the recently announced relocation of five AHL franchises.
April 11, by the way, is not the end of the road for this year’s Islanders. They’ve qualified for the NHL playoffs and will be making one last run at the Stanley Cup while in Nassau.
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism.