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Too Many Arenas

By Danny Radical

For those that don't follow New York Sports or haven't read a sports page in a while, you may have missed the December 2017 announcement that New York State awarded the New York Islanders permission to build an entertainment destination on the state land surrounding Belmont Racetrack.

What was included in the Islanders proposal? A hotel and convention center, restaurants, a sports arena, parking, free land, and tax breaks.

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The irony of such is that the Islanders left an arena just 3 years ago that included a hotel and convention center, restaurants, a sports area, parking, free land, and tax breaks.

https://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/new-deal-would-give-islanders-control-of-coliseum-1.1669963?&pts=102361

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As an Islander fan, I should be ecstatic that the Islanders are going to have their own arena. That they will build a "third generation" arena right here on the Nassau County/Queens County border right next to another national entertainment destination- Belmont Horse Park. That the owners are so committed to winning that they even dumped $20 million into fixing up their $52 million practice rink (which was bought for $8 million).

https://www.newsday.com/business/nassau-ice-skating-center-files-for-bankruptcy-1.10532283

https://www.lighthousehockey.com/2015/8/31/9233883/islanders-charles-wang-buy-bankrupt-twin-rinks-practice-facility-offices

Am I amped up about not going to Brooklyn anymore for games, where I spend 3 hours on a train to travel 30 miles round trip and pay $20 a head to bring my family along? Or not driving 3 hours to travel 30 miles round trip to battle to find parking? Absolutely. But I'm not 100% pumped, because Brooklyn is a fun place to go, and this whole team sale and arena debacle is a complete boondoggle which was as poorly managed as the New York Islanders are by their general manager.

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A brief history of the New York Islanders and their arena. The Nassau Coliseum opened in 1972 as part of the revitalization of Nassau County known as "The Hub." It's neighbors were Hofstra University, Nassau Community College, a Marriott Hotel, and a few office buildings. There were rumors that train service was planned to run all the way to the Coliseum off of the Hempstead train line. If you ever walked into the convention area at Nassau Coliseum it looks an awful lot like Penn Station does, and even has 2 stairwells that randomly exited into a pick up/drop off driveway in front of the Coliseum. But the NIMBY neighbors in Garden City prevented such from happening.

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What are those??

The 1970's was part of an era of Spartan sports arenas, where every arena was expected to support multiple teams. Shea Stadium supported the Jets and Mets, Yankee Stadium sponsored the Yankees and Giants, Madison Square Garden supported the Knicks and Rangers, and the Coliseum had the Nets and Islanders. Today every team wants its own publicly funded project for itself, despite land use or public consideration- this will be a theme later on in this piece.

As the Islanders rose in a mere 8 years from an expansion doormat to an all time great dynasty- 19 CONSECUTIVE playoff series wins will to that for you- the Coliseum was packed with rabid fans cheering on the players as only New Yorkers can.

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Islanders players hung out in East Meadow at Dr. Generosity's as they became part of the local fabric. It was always City versus Suburbs. They were our Brooklyn Dodgers, just without the Brooklyn. In the words of Billy Smith when told that he brought the Stanley Cup back to New York, "No, we brought the Stanley Cup to Long Island."

That moment may have been the birth of the 1940 chant, one of the greatest chants in sports history, and I hate Mark Messier for ruining it.

The mid to late 80's saw what so many dynasties endure- players aging, becoming less effective, being traded for assets, and retiring. My personal heartbreak was the retirement of Mike Bossy due to injury. If you are not familiar with Bossy, look up his stats. He's the greatest goal scorer in hockey history.

As the 80's came to an end, the Islanders missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Many blamed then Islanders owner John Pickett for being frugal with the team and for building through the draft instead of investing in players. Picketts defense was that the team's lease (the one he created and signed) ate up most of the revenue, but would keep the Islanders on Long Island for 30 years.

He was right. The 1985 lease lasted until 2015. Then the team left for...Brooklyn.

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W.T.F.

Why leave? Because every owner after Pickett was more interested in what the land the coliseum sat on was worth than how the team performed. The Gang of 4. Pigs at the Trough. Spano. Wang. Every "new" owner promised a new era of winning. None of those owners provided a new era of winning. None of the multiple owners since Pickett has won in their entire ownership tenure more playoff series than the 1993 Pickett team, which arrived at a Wales Conference Final. In fact, only one team owner even made the playoffs with the Islanders- Charles Wang- who was propping up the team to make it relevant in an effort to support his land snatch called the Lighthouse.

BARF.

The Islanders left the cozy confines of the Nassau Coliseum for the brand-new-yet-somehow-rusty Barclays Center in Brooklyn. As widely stated in its promotion, the Barclays sits on the exact same spot as the one Walter O'Malley wanted to use to build a brand new indoor Dodgers Stadium back in the 1950's. Any team leaving an arena built almost 50 years ago for a brand new home should be amped, right?

After all, the Coliseum had a crowded concourse. There were so few bathrooms that they had to add portable toilets outside of the arena. The concession stands were built to accommodate 16000 people from 1970, who clearly ordered less food than people did 30 years later- a hot dog trip could cost you a period of the game. There were absurd food carts to try to appease the masses, like a sushi cart, a tortilla cart, and a kosher cart. The best cart? Irish Isles, a booze cart. And no one ever considered it racist.

And I shall leave out the fact that the last 2 rows of the arena couldn't actually see the ice, so they installed TV's to watch in place of the game?

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I took that picture live.

So they moved to the brand new second generation arena, The Barclays Center, complete with second generation grass on the roof and walls made of rust. No joke. The Barclays in its defense has a lot of bathrooms and food offerings. So much food, it comes off as a giant shopping mall food court. But its color scheme? Causes depression. It's upper bowl is frightening and dangerous. There's a candy store in the arena. Who the hell needs a candy store at a basketball game? And the team store is 90% Brooklyn Nets, with its horrible middle school caliber jersey scheme, and a small section for Islanders swag.

https://nypost.com/2017/09/16/barclays-center-sued-by-injured-fans-over-exceedingly-steep-upper-level/

When Barclays was being built, the original plans called for a hockey and basketball arena. Those plans were too costly, and therefore scrapped. Instead the Nets got an arena (again) in an area that was unsure why the Nets were there, and then added a Long Island based fanbase. Compound that with the completely awful promotion by the Barclays for their new tenants, the horrendous Nets themed third jerseys, and the typical foul ups of the MTA in bringing the LIRR to Brooklyn and really, a shitstorm of stupidity was created.

So the arena at Belmont is a blessing, yes? The team will have a custom built state of the art arena! Kool Aid rejoice!

No, amigo, no.

First off, the arena at Belmont goes to show how shortsighted and stupid Nassau County politicians are. And politicians represent their electorate. Meaning the voters of Nassau County are largely shortsighted and stupid. There was no reason that a large parcel of land sitting underutilized in Uniondale could not be made into a world class arena. Belmont is in Nassau county, about 8 miles from Nassau Coliseum on the same road, but for all intensive purposes, it is in Queens.

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An idiot and a crook.

There are people living in Nassau County that remember when another horse park- Roosevelt Raceway- was predicted to become an arena for sports. There were reports that the Jets would have a stadium upon the old racetrack, and there would be a arena for the Nets and Islanders upon the remaining land.

http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/17/nyregion/the-squabbling-resumes-over-roosevelt-raceway.html

I understand that Islanders attendance in Uniondale was often garbage, which was an impetus for the team to move. That's because for a decade the team made itself irrelevant and produced a garbage product. When the team had its new owner renaissance in 2014-15, the team sold out frequently. It's last season in Nassau had a 75% sell out rate as the team put up 100 points. Wang missed out on the fact that a 100 point team is an attraction, and never realized a roster that did such.

Was the first season in Barclays- a 101 point season- as well sold? Are the Nets well sold? No and no.

That's because the team doesn't belong in Brooklyn.

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Packing them in on opening night!

I'm not saying that I did not appreciate Brooklyn.

On game days I will miss going to the wonderful selection of eateries and bars surrounding the arena and in walking distance of the Barclays. But that's already happening by attrition. Flatbush Farm and Bierkraft- two wonderful places that I'd pregame in- are already out of business. There's not going to be walking through neighborhoods at Belmont to find a cool local bar before or after a game. But the train station at Atlantic Terminal lacked the same entertainment provided at Penn Station, and if you didn't run out during the game to catch your train, you had a very boring waitahead of you.

It will be at least three years before Belmont opens. In the meantime, the Islanders will have two home arenas for the next three seasons. Some pundits have complained about the team not having a true home. Some have complained about how you schedule such. Stop it. These are baby issues. There are real issues with a new arena at Belmont. The first one is, how do I get there?

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NO.

Ideally Belmont would have a full time train station, especially if there are going to be year round jobs created at Belmont. But the MTA doesnt seem to care one bit. They're fighting against working to make an arena train stop viable. The MTA is as big a clusterfuck of an organization as the Islanders are- it's a perfect marriage in that regard. But that doesn't help fans. Lack of a viable east-west train service makes the New Belmont Nassau Coliseum West. Less train service than the Barclays, which had 18% of the train service of the Rangers at Penn Station. To call Atlantic Station a transportation hub is like calling Republic Airport a national destination.

Instead the Southern State Parkway, the Cross Island Expressway, and Hempstead Turnpike will be the 3 major transport routes for Belmont, like it currently is. I am already cringing at the thought of how voluminous traffic in the area will be. It'd be like going to the Coliseum, but sharing your commute with about 20,000 more cars.
Another real issue is location. If you look at "major" area arenas, Manhattan has MSG. Brooklyn has Barclays. Nassau has the remodeled and boring Coliseum and Jones Beach. Suffolk doesn't have their shit together and settles for Brookhaven. And Belmont...as stated before, that belongs to Queens.

Belmont is across the street from Queens. It sits on the Cross Island Expressway, which lacks express. It is a Queens arena. And where does a Queens arena belong? Next to beautiful Citi Field.

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Citi Field makes me confused because its sponsored by CitiBank and I hate sponsored arena names, but it's pronounced City Field and that is a PERFECT name for a stadium in New York City. Next to CitiField is a series of chop shops and garbage whose time has come. Think about it- the US Tennis open happens to the South of CitiField, and grand theft auto happens to the east. New York should have condemned that mess, eminent domained it, and built their Queens arena.

And left the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

If Nassau built a proper arena, this idea works. The remodeling of Nassau Coliseum cost close to $200 million. You don't need to double that to build a third generation arena as the team bought time in Brooklyn to come home.


And mathematically, this hypothetical works. Brooklyn has an arena. Manhattan has an arena. Queens has an arena. Nassau has an arena or two. And Suffolk, Staten Island and the Bronx are screwing up. All of the arenas have nice spacing between them, and they serve well populated areas without much of an overlap.

What doesn't work is hockey at the Barclays. Here's an early prediction- Nassau Coliseum will sell out their 13,900 seats for all 60 games they play at the Coliseum. Right now that's about 17% more of a draw than the Barclays is doing. And the games at the Barclays? I expect those attendance numbers to drop to under 10,000. No one is going to travel 3 hours when they can spend the same money and gain 2 hours a day.

Which gets us to our last real reason- which arena is going to out of business? Because an arena seating 18000 at Belmont? That's going to hurt the Nassau Coliseum. Or the Nassau Coliseum will hurt Belmont. Two arenas separated by 15 miles. On the same road. With competing ownership groups. Someone is going to go out of business.

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This was on a gameday.

My guess? Nassau. They're already building a hospital in the parking lot. They lease another part of the parking lot to car dealerships to maintain inventory. There were plans to privatize the whole hub if the Islanders left. It may be time to let the place that was so many first concerts for Long Islanders to fade away, and have a little economic engine sitting in what is now too often an empty parking lot. Even with a $165 million facelift, New York State still has to chip in $6 million to help make the arena adequate for hockey. Which is weird, because wasn't it part of the plan to bring in a minor league ice hockey team to replace the Islanders? I guess minor leagues don't need ice?

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Carved in the wall at the New Coliseum

So as Islanders fans rejoice about having a reunion with their old arena, which was something that was never expected with the announcement of the ironclad unbreakable never leaving lease that Charles Wang announced all those years ago. Understand that for three years of new memories, you may end up driving your kids by a strip mall and office buildings and say "I saw the 2013 NHL playoffs right there, right where that parking garage is" as you take one of the three traffic laden roads to Belmont, which would suddenly feel like Brooklyn traffic. Or as we say around here, more of the same.

P.S. My guess at Belmont RFA before it was announced:

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