Getting anything built in the New York metropolitan area, especially a sports stadium, is a Herculean task, so I am surprised that there hasn’t been more visible public opposition to the proposed arena for the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders franchise at Belmont Park. Allow me to offer some criticism.
Let me state from the outset that I would have no problem with the idea of a new home for the Islanders if Nassau Coliseum, which was recently refurbished, weren’t available for them to use in perpetuity if they wanted. The team currently splits its home games between there and Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Islanders fans love the place that they call “the old barn.”
The problem is that it only seats around 13,000 people, and NHL Commissioner and former Forest Hills resident Gary Bettman insists on his arenas seating at least 16,000.
The “new” Nassau Coliseum could have seated Bettman’s desired number but the tandem team owners, reclusive money man Scott Malkin and ownership’s PR face, Bayside High alum Jon Ledecky, wanted to move the team to the greener pastures of New York City. They looked briefly into building an arena near Citi Field before choosing Barclays Center.
But their old fans didn’t feel like traipsing to Brooklyn while most city residents were content to stick with the Rangers. Hockey is a niche sport and there are only so many customers.
The land at Belmont Park is owned by state taxpayers and it shouldn’t be donated to the owners to bail out their bad business acumen.
I can also state that based on my dealings with the Isles’ communications department — which has refused to issue me a press credential to cover them for the last eight years because its reps didn’t like my postgame questions to one of their players and their head coach at the time — they have a strange, insular culture. Ledecky has done nothing to change that. Whom you do business with counts in my book.
Putting aside the Islanders’ bizarre corporate culture and the fact that a hockey franchise as your lead tenant in an arena is a risky proposition for profitability, there’s no shortage of arenas in our area. There aren’t many circuses; fewer musical artists have big tours; and the Harlem Globetrotters aren’t the draw that they once were. In short, there will be a lot of dates when the arena is dark.
The Queens Chronicle reported last January that many residents in southeastern Queens and southwestern Nassau are understandably concerned about the increased demand for parking and traffic in their neighborhoods. And we all know that it doesn’t take much to back up the Cross Island Parkway. Sorry, Gov. Cuomo. This project doesn’t pass the cost-benefit test.