Lets say the New York Islanders didn’t already exist, and were granted an NHL expansion franchise. First order of business would be finding a venue to play in for the 2019-2020 season.
That’s our premise. Suppose that you are a wealthy real estate and retail tycoon, who, along with your Harvard roommate, has been granted an expansion franchise for the “greater Long Island area”. Where would you play in order to maximize the value of your investment?
Hire me as a consultant. Your preliminary report might sound like this:
First off, sir. I have considered factors which will include the suitability of the arena’s location in terms of being near a fan base. And I have considered access to both auto traffic, and mass transit. Additionally, it is also a bonus to many fans if the area around the arena can be a destination.
Fan experience inside the venue matters very much. A wide selection of choices of dining, for beers, for urination. Those things matter, most likely in that chronological order. Moving around the facility should be simple and without gridlock. Oh, and the seats should face the ice. (You’d think that would be a given, but…)
And do not disregard player perception. Players want world class facilities which must include well-equipped and roomy training facilities, the proper amenities for families, locker rooms that rival the best in the league, and good ice.
Maybe what matters most to you is the ability to maximize your cash flow. Will your franchise be the entity that gets parking revenue? Will you be the ones selling the corporate luxury boxes. And speaking of those boxes, which location gives you the best chance to sell them?
Lets make one more assumption. That is that you will choose the area’s best option for a practice facility, the Northwell Health Ice Center in Eisenhower Park. It’s a top notch venue that will please your players. I advise in favor of that most strongly.
Lets examine all the possibilities for arenas. We will start out east and make our way toward the city.
In Suffolk County, there is the site of the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Hospital, rife with the ghosts of the mentally unwell. It would be a fitting tribute to your predecessors as owners of the Islanders. But they don’t exist in this timeline. So lets move on. Among this site’s merits are it’s easy accessibility and definitive declaration that this is Long Island’s team. And the ability to build a venue from scratch, to your own modern specs.
Unfortunately, you’d have to imagine there’d be slim pickings in regard to corporate support. And media coverage from city-based outlets would be minimal. This sounds like a fun, heart-warming choice. You might be the league’s underdog darlings. But wouldn’t you rather aim to be a league powerhouse?
Let’s look next at the site they are refurbishing in… what’s the name of that place… Oniondale? Can you imagine THAT in a byline? Then again, it is directly across the street from the practice rink. It’s got much more population within driving distance than Pilgrim has.
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But we’ve heard horrible things about having to deal with the Town of Hempstead, and only slightly less worrisome things about Nassau County. Big turn off for a building that only has 70 percent of the capacity you need, about half the luxury boxes, no mass transit, and neighbors in a perpetual nimby-fest.
Only a few miles further west you run right into Belmont Race Track’s old property. The state-owned location is terrific in terms of being central to a fan base. Train service can be restored somewhat easily. And a big plus is that you would get to build your own site from scratch.
Downside? The area isn’t much of a destination. But there’s on again-off again talks about an Indian Casino. I know — “gambling”. Hey, they gave a team to Vegas! The league can not claim to frown on this any longer. Pittsburgh’s arena is practically IN a casino. Oh, and a minor league soccer team is trying to build something at Belmont as well.
Now there’s also the Willet Points project. That’s where Citi Field is. And the Tennis Center as well. The Wilpons have been trying to develop that land for quite some time. I imagine that they would welcome both a strategic and financial partner. Again, you’d be “major league” because you’d be housed with the US Open and the Mets, and you could design something spectacular.
The downside is that the location is nowhere. Fifty years after the Mets moved in, there still isn’t anything else within miles before or after a game. Sixty years after Walter O’Malley refused a free stadium on the site because it was a wasteland… it remains a wasteland.
Now in Brooklyn, here’s where you have something really interesting. A virtually brand new, state of the art, world class facility. The surrounding neighborhood is sort of a hang out paradise with bars and pubs and food and anything else. Think Wrigley Field, in term of neighborhood, if you’ve ever been there. Oh, and get this, it’s built ON a railroad stop!!
The downside? Well… how do I put this… you know the old joke about the definition of a Camel as “a horse that was designed by a committee?” Well, for hockey, Barclays Center is a seven hump camel. And you know how Camels like to spit at people, there’s this guy, Yormark…”
My formal recommendation as a permanent home, for the 2019 Expansion New York Islanders is as follows. Partner with the Shinnecock Indians who want to build that casino at Belmont. Go along with them either to that site or Willets Point. But bargain together so you will have more leverage AND your eventual site will have a guaranteed secondary attraction.