The Islanders will, for once, be moving from the outhouse to the penthouse, but not before some final drama.
How Did We Get Here?
The relationship between Nassau County and the Islanders has been tense at best for years, if not decades. The trap of suburban small-thinking has infected the Coliseum site since the Kennedy administration ceded the land in 1962. Plans for a 20,000 seat arena paired with an underground LIRR station (what is now the Expo Hall) and a planned complex of cultural buildings (you may have heard of it, since it was later built somewhere else: Lincoln Center).
For the next 51 years, the "Nassau Hub" has been nothing more than a brand name. Nassau has badly, inexcusably mismanaged what is supposed to be its premiere venue, constantly short-changing on needed repairs and letting an arena that was in some people's view obsolete when it opened go completely to seed. The Lighthouse Project provided hope, but it too fell to a combination of the Town of Hempstead's outdated thinking and Charles Wang's hubris (I'll leave it up to all of you to determine the percentage of each). To make matters worse, Ed Mangano badly bungled the ultimately-doomed 2011 arena referendum by taking a page from the Underpants Gnomes and attempting to sneak the referendum past the public on a Monday in August with barely any information.
This is not to imply the Islanders have been saints, as comically bad management has ruled the day for so long. John Pickett shackled the Islanders to Nassau Coliseum with the worst lease in sports (though if you think about it, that may have been the only reason the team never moved), the Pigs at the Trough tried to void the lease by claiming the Coliseum was unsafe, and now Nassau County claims the Islanders and SMG have not fulfilled their rent obligations under the current lease agreement.
To add to the intrigue, we already know the Islanders are going to Brooklyn and were set for an extremely strange 3 last seasons in the Coliseum.
Wait...you didn't think the principals would act like adults and these last 3 years would pass by drama-free, did you?
This all sets the stage for one of the messiest types of disputes you can imagine: deadbeat landlord vs. lame duck tenant.
The Current Situation
I said in my original Fan Post about the Brooklyn news that I wouldn't be surprised if we saw the Islanders move before 2015, and I am more convinced of that now. The Islanders countered Nassau's claims by saying they did not owe additional money because they made repairs to the Coliseum that Nassau is contractually obligated to make. In addition, Nassau County chose to name the Islanders as the main offender and leak the news to Newsday even though the county, as landlord, leases the Coliseum to SMG, who then leases to the Islanders. We're seeing the landlord go after the sub-letter, and it's nothing more than a grab for publicity.
In addition, if the money had been going unpaid for "years," why is Nassau only finding out now? Ladies and gentlemen of Nassau County, your leaders at work.
At this point, I wonder if the situation between Nassau County and the Islanders is untenable, but there are many factors in play that we need to discuss:
Buying out the Lease
I have some decent knowledge of finance, and I don't think buying out the Islanders' lease at Nassau Coliseum would be as expensive as some think. At the end of the day, it would cost the present value of Nassau's yearly revenues from the arena over the next 2 years, and that number could be under $10 million. The New York Times estimates the move to Brooklyn would net the Islanders an additional $35 million a year in revenue, so you would have to imagine Charles Wang could be open to this (unless he plans to use that money to buy out DP, of course).
Would Barclays be Ready?
We know that Barclays Center, as currently built (for who knows what reason), cannot support more than 14,500 fans for hockey, and small renovations will need to take place to increase capacity. It's unclear whether the Islanders would want to play in the arena before those changes were made.
County Executive Elections
Ed "Mr. Areener" Mangano is up for re-election in the fall. He capitalized on anti-tax fervor and an entitled incumbent who thought he had the election in the bag to pull off an extremely narrow upset victory in 2009. Nassau is still scuffling, and you know the Democrats in Nassau are chomping at the bit to have another crack at Mangano this fall. Thanks to the Brooklyn news, his opponents can already chide Mangano as "the man who lost the Islanders," and I doubt he would want to give them additional fodder with his re-election already in doubt.
The New "Hub" Deal
Mangano recently made headlines by signing a new re-development agreement for the Coliseum property with developer Donald Monti, who plans to scale down the Coliseum (among other developments) and is rumored to be having trouble securing financing for his undertaking. In fact, no plan has been submitted to the Town of Hempstead as of yet. Mangano could spin an early exit by the Islanders as wanting to clear the way for Monti's development, but I suspect things would have to be far more together than they are for him to feel comfortable with that.
Islanders Plans for Nassau Post-Move
A persistent rumor says that the Islanders would move the Sound Tigers to the Coliseum after the big club moves to Brooklyn, paving the way for the rags to move the Whale to Bridgeport. It seems on the surface like a win-win, because the rags would get a farm team closer to Manhattan and the Islanders would maintain a connection to Long Island (and if they do, please please please let that team be named the Long Island Ducks). I don't know whether the Islanders would want to antagonize Nassau if they plan to work together in a landlord/tenant relationship with the Islanders AHL franchise into the future....just food for thought.
The Biggest Indicator
Unless the Islanders, SMG, and Nassau County can come to an amicable solution (snicker), I suspect this saga will lead to lawsuit. I don't know if it would actually end up in court, but I would not be surprised if there were lawsuits. If there are, and this is big, watch which party sues first. If the Islanders sue first, they will likely accuse Nassau of breach of contract and are looking to get out of the Coliseum before 2015. If Nassau sues first, it's probably a political move to boost Mangano in an election year.
I maintain my belief that we will see the Islanders in Barclays Center before 2015, but it would be a crying shame to have the team move without giving Nassau Coliseum a proper goodbye.
No matter how this ends, one thing's for certain: never a dull moment in Islanders Country, even if there's light in Brooklyn at the end of the tunnel.