This Lighthouse process is turning into more of a theater of the absurd by the day. You have the Town of Hempstead, who steadfastly refused to meet with Charles Wang for 7 years, suddenly congratulating itself for jump-starting the process. At the same time, you have Charles Wang's tight-lipped Lighthouse Project, which begged for meetings for years and is now suddenly not making any of them. There has been acrimony on both sides, and with the process having been dark for over 4 months people's imaginations are taking over to a greater degree.
This came into perfect focus when, on Monday morning, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was a guest on Boomer Esiason's WFAN radio show. He criticized the Town of Hempstead for not being able to "get this together," and seemed to throw cold water on the idea of Brooklyn as a relocation point for the New York Islanders should the Lighthouse Project go awry.
This led to Newsday, our favorite local paper, doing a two-page spread saying that this "opened the door for Queens" and listed all potential relocation points, including, I can't believe it, Kansas City. Naturally, this prompted more hysterical blog posts and emails from nervous fans who have been caught in the crossfire o this piss-for-distance contest.
Everyone, take a breath.
There was no news in anything Gary Bettman said.
You could wonder if Charles Wang is feeding the commissioner this information, but let's not forget that Bettman spent months bashing Nassau County for a process that is wholly controlled by the Town of Hempstead, so it's fair to ask whether the commissioner is actually helping or just thought he was.
Let's take a quick detour into the three main options, again, because to me this illustrates the dirty little secret of the Lighthouse saga:
The Atlantic Yards Project cleared its last major hurdle, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (a figurehead in this whole process) has made no secret of his desire to lure the Islanders to the soon to be built Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn.
Seems like smooth sailing, right?
There is heavy, organized, and well-funded community opposition, and they have spent years filing every lawsuit known to man in an attempt to stop Atlantic Yards based on an alleged illegal use of eminent domain. This will not stand, as the key legal precedent, Kelo v. New London, is firmly in favor of the government's right to seize private property for private use. Some want to challenge Atlantic Yards based on the recent decision against Columbia's attempts to have blocks of Morningside Heights condemned, but as my friend "Brooklyn Law Student" pointed out, it's not a solid legal argument. The courts ruled that Columbia cannot profit off the blight in Morningside because they were found to have contributed to it. You can say what you will about Bruce Ratner, but you cannot say he is the reason the area was in its condition at the time of the eminent domain.
This is another dirty little secret: the opposition knows they have no solid legal footing.
They're not trying to win.
They're trying to run out the clock.
They are hoping that a continuous flood of lawsuits will deflate Ratner, cause him to refund the bonds he sold for arena construction, and move on from the project. With the New Jersey Nets moving "temporarily" to the brand-new Prudential Center in Newark, one wonders if Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov would be tolerant of any delays.
Brooklyn may well happen, the courts and city are on Ratner's side, but it's not quite there yet.
Not surprisingly, the statement from Bettman touched off another round of Queens hysteria, but this too is a bit premature. As I've said previously, Queens merely issued a Request for Qualifications, to which 29 developers responded, and we don't even know whether Charles Wang and Scott Rechler were included, because nobody is talking.
In addition, calls from the Queens Chamber of Commerce President (a man about as useful to that process as Marty Markowitz is to Atlantic Yard) have not been returned by Charles Wang or anyone in the Lighthouse offices.
First off, there is another organized opposition in Queens that will almost certainly fight the Willets Point development as rabidly as those in Brooklyn have stood against Atlantic Yards.
Further complicating things, Queens is only planning to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) later this year. It's over 5 years since the Lighthouse Project was first unveiled, and 4 since it won the competitive bidding process that Nassau County set up after the fact. Even if Charles Wang were to go all-in on Queens (something that would completely end the Lighthouse, because the Town of Hempstead would not accept it) and get the buy-in from Mike Bloomberg and the city, it would still take years to get off the ground, as this does.
I have yet to hear a cogent reason why starting from square 1 is inherently a better idea than continuing a process that is far along, despite obstacles.
I've said repeatedly that political will was the one key ingredient missing from the Lighthouse Project, and despite the fabrications from its enablers, the Town of Hempstead has finally developed this through its decision to put forward a zoning plan. It guarantees that something will eventually be done at the Lighthouse site.
We of course don't know what will come out of it, and I and others have repeatedly pushed the idea of the Town making a proposal bigger than it may be comfortable with in order to prove it is negotiating in good faith. We do, however, know that Ed Mangano, the new Republican County Executive, is eager to present an image as a uniter, separate from the hyper-partisan Tom Suozzi, and he controls the keys to any future promotion Kate Murray may want in the future.
It will not be better immediately, but the seeds have been planted for an agreement if both sides want it badly enough.
From a hockey perspective, there has never been a team in the modern NHL to leave a location where it won a championship, and given the recent fiasco with the Phoenix Coyotes I can't imagine the league wants to risk a nightmare with the Islanders.
In the same vein, you have two main relocation offers full of issues that have never happened with the Lighthouse Project, and sudden political will at the Town and County level to get something done at the Coliseum site.
If Charles Wang were to walk, it would take years to choose another developer who would wind up producing...the exact same project as the Town of Hempstead chooses in its zoning plan.
When you look at all these issues, this becomes the Dirty Little Secret: The easiest thing for all parties to do is make a deal with each other.
Whether or not that happens is a story in and of itself.
Coming soon: What we and the Lighthouse opponents can learn from St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan.
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