New York Islanders arena uncertainty still apparent
Suppose you lived in an apartment. It had its bumps and bruises, but it was yours, and you lived there your entire life. However, your landlord kicks you out because the landlord can’t agree on how to renovate the building. So, you move to another apartment.
This apartment, as new as it is, doesn’t exactly fit your family, plus your relatives live farther away. You can opt out of the building after a certain time, but where would you go?
Here’s the kicker: the landlord wants you to come back, but wants you to live in a complex that isn’t built yet. You could move back to your old apartment, but despite a renovation, it doesn’t accommodate you as well anymore.
This is a complicated situation, for sure. Welcome the New York Islanders arena conundrum. For a team that seeks a perfect fit, none of its options are without drawbacks, and the uncertainty is hurting the team’s look.
The Islanders Arena Predicament
The Islanders relationship with its home arena, Barclays Center, is not working out. According to ESPN, the Isles had the third-lowest average home attendance last season at 13,101 fans. Players and patrons have spoken out about the rough commute to Brooklyn. The ice is terrible; Cal Clutterbuck and former employees Kyle Okposo and Jack Capuano have all publicly criticized the playing surface.
With a perfect storm of issues, the two sides can opt out of the 25-year deal next January. Newsday’s Jim Baumbach and Robert Brodsky say the Islanders have a choice to leave after next season or in 2019. Barclays Center can evict the Isles if they initiate the opt-out.
The Islanders have other options for a new arena should they choose to leave Brooklyn. They could return to the Nassau Coliseum or build new arenas in Flushing or Belmont Park. The problem is, there are too many gray areas surrounding their options.
Interestingly enough, Nassau and Suffolk County are urging the Islanders to return to the Nassau Coliseum. The county legislatures will hold a press conference on Friday to urge the team to return to its original home once they, according to Newsday, make “unspecified ‘modifications’”.
However, it’s unlikely the Islanders return back to a shrunken arena. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is adamant that the coliseum’s current 13,000-seat capacity isn’t sufficient for hockey games. The Islanders could’ve stayed years ago before the Nassau County government let them walk. This is already a long shot from the get-go.
They could build a new arena in the same area as Citi Field in Queens, but there is too much litigation surrounding the property to consider it a viable option.
At this stage, Belmont Park is the best option for a different Islanders arena. Even then, there are still many obstacles.
The Belmont Dilemma
On Monday, the town of Elmont held a Belmont Park redevelopment listening session for residents. Over 300 residents attended with a few dozen citizens expressing their interest.
While many were hoping for clarity after the meeting, it was a range of emotions. Some in the crowd, per Baumbach’s Twitter page, were in favor of the arena because it would bring the Islanders back, create jobs and possibly establish a year-round Long Island Rail Road station.
Others, however, believed that it would hamper the local economy long-term, contributing only minimum wage employment. One speaker said that it would also use too many law enforcement officials from the community.
When the dust settled on the meeting, there was only one consensus: there is a divide in support for a new Islanders arena at Belmont Park and is in no way a surefire deal.
The Islanders’ Next Home
The blue and orange are in a bind, with these three tangible options for a home arena presenting debilitating flaws. Barclays Center’s ice and location isn’t privy to the players and the fans. The Nassau Coliseum is too small and the NHL doesn’t support it. Belmont Park has critics, and a new stadium will take years to build anyway.
Surrounding all of this arena drama is the fate of the Isles’ franchise player, John Tavares. He has one year remaining on his deal before he hits free agency. The Islanders wish to extend him, but Tavares is reportedly willing to wait. One of the reasons, says Arthur Staple, is he wants to see where the Isles will play long-term.
While it’s impossible to say if that is a legitimate reason Tavares is waiting, it holds merit. Conventional wisdom is that a captain wants to know where he plays out the rest of his career. The uncertainty makes the franchise a tough sell. The Islanders are in a tight spot because of that, and if Tavares doesn’t sign, then expect a monumental revolt from the fandom.
The Islanders arena confusion is harming the team’s reputation. It is a shame that none of the realistic options for a home fit perfectly at the moment. If they stay in Brooklyn, Barclays Center improves the ice and the LIRR eases the commute. If Belmont Park gets approved, hopefully the public warms up to it and the arena gets built quickly with a better train station than it has now.
For a family, a home or apartment needs to benefit the tenants. The Islanders family needs the same from the arena it will play in three years from now.
Feature image courtesy of the NY Daily News/Photo by Bruce Bennett, Getty Images.
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