One year from today, the New York Islanders will have officially opened the doors to UBS Arena, the team’s brand new home at Belmont Park.
With that, they will have seen one man’s vision finally become a reality and his legacy established.
Charles Wang, the late former owner of the franchise from 2000 to 2016, had the dream in his mind of the Islanders having their own arena on the grounds next to Belmont Park.
For his entire stewardship, Wang tried everything in his power to get the Isles a new home on Long Island. He tried to pay for it out of his own pocket with the Lighthouse Project from 2005-2008 but failed because of the buffoonery that is Nassau County politics (mainly Kate Murray). He made another effort in 2011 with The Referendum; that too was unsuccessful due to the whole idea becoming a political football. Wang was forced with no other choice in October 2012 but to move the franchise from a decaying Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as a final play to keep the Islanders from relocating out of New York.
The Isles moved to Brooklyn after the 2014-15 season. In that time too, new ownership — Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky — had bought the team from Wang and would be partners with him until they became sole owners in June 2016. Wang shied away from the spotlight once Malkin and Ledecky took over the day-to-day operations of the organization, but he was working on something even bigger behind the scenes: he was laying the groundwork with the NYRA (New York Racing Association) for the possibility of the Islanders building a future state-of-the-art facility next to Belmont Park and ensuring the Isles returned home to Long Island.
“He always felt the team was a Long Island team and belonged here,” NYRA board member Michael Dubb said on two years ago. “Charles deserves all the credit. The Islanders don’t come back to Long Island without Charles.”
The kicker of it all was Belmont was state-owned land, meaning that the Islanders would not have to go through all the red tape they’d experienced more over from dealing with Nassau County.
In the summer of 2016, the team had announced they were putting in a bid to build a new arena at that location. By December 2017, the franchise had won the rights to develop the surrounding area.
Wang passed away two years ago today after a private battle with lung cancer.
Nearly a year after his death, the franchise broke ground at Belmont and have seen the building rise and become a beacon of hope during some very tough times in recent months. It will be an even bigger beacon when the place is finally completed.
“The arena at Belmont Park will be just one of his many legacies left to the team and to Long Island,” Ledecky said on the day Wang passed.
He had his faults and was too loyal to some individuals at times but Wang still remains the reason the Islanders are playing in New York, particularly Long Island, to this day. If I had my choice, he would have his own wing or even a statue inside/outside UBS Arena.
There’s no doubt he fully deserves it.
“No matter how many setbacks he had,” Dubb also said, “he never lost sight of the fact that the Islanders did belong on Long Island.”
Charles Wang’s vision of a new home for the Islanders will soon be real. And that itself still feels surreal to say. Islanders fans have differing opinions on the man, but one thing can’t be underestimated.
Belmont was his baby.
More than that, it will be his lasting legacy with the Islanders.