(Blogger's Note: As with all opinion pieces, this is better if more people comment)
Now, as promised, a Special Comment about Charles Wang, owner of the New York Islanders and principal visionary behind the Lighthouse Project. Whether the Town of Hempstead acknowledges the legitimacy of it or not, Mr. Wang's October 3 deadline for "certainty" - meaning approval of re-zoning - is approaching rapidly. The horizon is fast approaching, with free agency for the New York Islanders awaiting on the other side.
Not surprisingly, this ticking clock is being met with a mixture of anxiety, fear, and outright anger from the Islanders' fan base, a group that has, through fraudulent owners, falling scoreboards, and silly trade after silly trade, already experienced enough heartache to last a thousand lifetimes. An upcoming game in Kansas City - which, by no accident, is being played the same day as the Lighthouse Project re-zoning hearing, serves to remind the frozen faithful that glittering new homes await across this continent if the local government is not willing to protect its asset.
Image via WikipediaMr. Wang, whether we like it or not, has earned the right to explore all the options for a team that is, at the end of the day, his. We know his losses have been severe, and I know that, had I been in his shoes, I would have lost patience long before this. It is clear that, with a re-zoning hearing occurring on September 22 and a Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) not near completion due to the antics of Frederick P. Clark Associates, the October 3 hearing will pass without a firm commitment. The Lighthouse process will not suddenly stop as if encased in carbonite; it will endure, and, hopefully, to a happy end. However, representatives from other cities dying to get their shot (or a second shot, in some cases) at NHL hockey will be at the ready to woo a four-time Stanley Cup champion team, and Mr. Wang should hear them out like any potential free agent would. It is not pleasant, but from a business perspective this may be necessary.
Let me be clear: I do not believe that this coming free agency period means the Lighthouse Project is dead or dying. In fact, we are the closest we have ever been to making our Island Dream a reality, even though Mr. Wang's self-imposed deadline will soon come and pass.
Long Island history, and the eventual decision rendered by the Town of Hempstead will do no less than shape the future of one of the first suburban communities in human history for generations to come, but we cannot forget that its initial existence was to ensure the survival of the New York Islanders, an anachronism of a team whose past success is perhaps the only reason the team has not yet moved to a major city with a glittering new arena and a sweetheart lease deal. The Lighthouse Project will all but certainly assure the New York Islanders make a permanent home on Long Island, and we cannot lose that in light of the myriad other benefits this proposal will reap for the community.
The Lighthouse Project will almost certainly pass, albeit after Mr. Wang's deadline. I look forward to the day I can meet all of you at a game, and I cannot wait to bring my future children to an Islanders game and tell them that we are there not only because of Charles Wang, but because of what we did in 2009. That may be the real story of the Lighthouse Project, one my friend B.D. Gallof's unfortunately-named contact "Ass-to-Mouth" even acknowledged, saying the Lighthouse Project is near the finish line thanks to us. The bloggers like Chris Botta, Doug Davidson, and Dee Karl, who had the courage to stand up to power and break through the nonsense. The citizens who inundated the Town of Hempstead with phone calls and letters. Joe Conte, whose courageous speaking out at Kate Murray's kickoff rally contributed to a chain of events culminating in the ouster of Joseph Mondello from his chairmanship of the State Republican Party. These people all stood up and fought for Charles Wang's vision because they believe that Long Island's best days can be ahead of it, and their efforts must be recognized.
In addition to these brave souls, I must also mention the reluctant ones. These fans and citizens have fallen on the crutch of cynicism, believing that the Lighthouse Project is a ruse that is meant, in actuality, to bolster nothing but Charles Wang's bank account. These people point to many examples, some borne out of not knowing the facts, such as those who wonder why Mr. Wang does not simply renovate the Coliseum, but others point to the actual terms of the agreement that Mr. Wang has currently proposed. As of now, Charles Wang, Scott Rechler, and the Lighthouse Development Group are seeking a 99-year lease on the Lighthouse site, virtually a sale by Nassau County, who will retain ownership of the land, but they are only proposing to extend the New York Islanders' lease through 2025. To many fans, this is tantamount to a head-fake, and even Joe Ra, the Hempstead Town Attorney, expressed his displeasure at this, fan-to-fan.
I believe Mr. Wang can kill two birds with one stone by making a simple announcement. On September 22, he should stand in front of the Hempstead Town Board, elected officials, media, and citizens, and make this announcement:
I promised to seek other options for the New York Islanders if October 3 passed without receiving certainty on the Lighthouse Project, and it now appears this date will pass without action. I am disappointed in this, and I must fulfill my obligation to entertain other suitors for my team. However, I want to prove my commitment to Long Island, my lifelong home. If I receive approval on re-zoning, I will negotiate with Nassau County to extend the Islanders' lease in a reborn Nassau Coliseum for 25 years past the current end-date, through 2040.This action would serve numerous positive goals for the Lighthouse cause. It would eliminate a Town of Hempstead talking point about not putting Islanders fans first, it would convince the lingering doubters of his sincerity, and, finally, it would prove the Lighthouse is truly Mr. Wang's priority for his team, his community, and his legacy.
While correct in the abstract, it would also represent a business sacrifice. Such a long-term deal, especially when the Islanders are currently not a money-making franchise, can be very risky. As Islander505 pointed out, this could hurt some flexibility in the longer term. However, stewardship of the land should help to ease this burden, and, in this case, it is a sacrifice that I believe must be made. 30-year leases, which this would effectively be, are common in new buildings, and you must treat the renovated Coliseum as if it were a new arena.
This may not be Mr. Wang's chosen action, but, regardless, I believe his words and actions must prove, beyond a lingering doubt, that he will do right by those of us who have fought for his dream, and his motives lie in making things work right here, on Long Island. This process has come too far, and too many people have sacrificed too much, for this to be derailed now.
Mr. Wang, we have stood behind you and helped in your fight to make the Lighthouse Project a reality. Now, you hold a trump card in your hands. You can eliminate all lingering doubts, and you can convince the reluctant among us that this truly is for Long Islanders and the Islanders. Please, sir, understand that duty and that responsibility, and strike the decisive blow for the Lighthouse Project.
As the great Edward R. Murrow would say, goodnight, and good luck.
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