Just when you think the New York Islanders are in the clear when it comes to their arena problems, they get thrown another curveball.
Yesterday, a report from Bloomberg.com came out with information that Mikhail Prokhorov, whose Onexim Sports and Entertainment which operates the Nassau Coliseum under the lease of Nassau County, is planning to shut down its doors as they try to find new investors to take over the arena’s operations and help pick up the $100 million debt remaining on the building.
The Coliseum hasn’t hosted any events since the coronavirus shut down the entire country and the Islanders’ season.
The last time the Isles did host a game there just five days before the shutdown — a controversial 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. And truthfully, that game might have been the last the Islanders ever play in their original, and since refurbished Old Barn. With no postseason games expected to be hosted in the building — the NHL decided the playoffs will be taking place in Las Vegas and another hub citym which will be chosen sometime next week — and the prospect of the following season possibly not beginning till January with or without fans, uncertainty is once again staring the Isles right in the face.
This latest development with securing a home is just another “spoke in the wheel” the Islanders continue to endure until they finally have a shiny, brand new building of their own at Belmont Park, which will be ready to open for the 2021-22 season.
The Islanders and their fans have been through anything and everything imaginable when it comes to wanting to have a stable facility that will provide long-term security. It’s been this way since the early ’90s when the Coliseum, already over 20 years old. Was beginning to fall apart. There were talks back then of the possibility of a new facility, but the incompetence of government officials always clouded them. John Spano, the person who technically owned the Isles for several months towards the end of the ’90s, was in talks with Nassau County about building a new home for the franchise. That all went out the window when he was convicted of fraud and lied about who he was and how much money he was really worth.
That was really just the start of it all.
After Charles Wang became part-owner of the team in 2000 and then sole owner a year later, he had his own vision of a brand new building. It was part of his overall plan — The Lighthouse Project (who could forget that jingle) — to help revitalize the entire hub that surrounded the Coliseum. The plan never saw the light of day because of Kate Murray and the buffoonery again that was Nassau County politics. Dealing with such a dense crowd even prompted Wang to look at other options, which included Kansas City and Quebec for possible relocation of the franchise.
Fast forward a few years later and the latest jolt to get the Islanders a new home came in the form of a plan between Wang and former county executive Ed Mangano. The proposal called for a $400 million arena paid with taxpayer’s money. Of course, that plan also went nowhere after the powers that be decided to have Nassau County residents vote on whether to green-light the plan stupidly at the beginning of August. The decision was horrendous and again left the Isles with a murky future.
Then came a little bit of hope, or so we thought.
Out of options and patience by October 2012 — the NHL was also just at the beginning of what would be season that was locked out until January — Wang did what he could to save the franchise from moving. He agreed to move the Islanders to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center after the team’s lease with the Coliseum ran out following the 2014-15 season. The contract was said to be “ironclad” for the next 25 years.
When the Islanders did start playing in Kings County, it was a disaster. The obstructed seats, the total disconnect between the fans, players, and organization with the building, and the building not being suitable to house an NHL team was impossible to ignore. It’s no wonder the new owners of the team — Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky — were immediately looking for another place to play, not even before the end of the first year in Brooklyn.
Things only continued to get worse as the Brooklyn experiment, and at one point, it was reported that Barclays wanted to kick the Islanders out. By 2017, it was time for the two-decades-long drama to stop.
Enter Belmont Park.
The Islanders put in a bid to build a state-of-the-art facility on the grounds of the park, which was state own land. They were awarded the bid in December, and it seemed there was finally light at the end of the tunnel. Wrong. After the franchise won the bid, there were lawsuits, red tape, community outrage, and just pure stupidity that tried to stop the project or make sure it was years before it got started.
Surprisingly, everything worked out for the Islanders, but they still were going to need a place to play while the building would be built, which brings us back to Nassau Coliseum.
The team has been playing there since it was announced they would return to the Coliseum for 12 games for the 2018-19 campaign. They split the home schedule with Barclays this past season and were all set to play the playoffs plus all 41 home dates next season, which was made official by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in early March. After yesterday’s story, that announcement feels moot.
So when will the drama end? I tweeted it could come in 477 days. By then, it will be October 2021, and the new hockey season ready to begin.
That date still feels like a long ways away. But it will get here. Until then, we’re all still living in the reality show that is the Islanders arena drama.
A story that never seems to want to end.