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Islanders' lease with Nassau County, contentious and controversial document, dies at 36

Inanimate object's life of both privilege and pain ends peacefully.

For Nassau, a lease expires.
For Nassau, a lease expires.

(The following ran in the New York Times Obituaries this morning and is being re-posted here with permission.)

The New York Islanders' lease with Nassau County, which helped establish the historic team's home base on Long Island while also being at the center of a decades-long feud over money, died peacefully on July 31st in Uniondale, N.Y. The lease was 36.

The document's death was confirmed by the Nassau County Comptroller and Coroner's Office.

A once hopeful pact between a prosperous hockey team and a proud community, the lease eventually found itself behind the times and at odds with the very club it was meant to sustain. At the time of the lease's death, the relationship between the county and the Islanders was strained and uncertain according to family members.

Through the years, the county benefited greatly from rent, concessions and parking revenues, as well as ticket taxes collected from Islanders games at Nassau Coliseum through to the lease.  But as the cost of running a professional sports team began to rise, the Coliseum remained a sad, crumbling relic of a bygone era and a prohibitively restrictive source of funds for the team.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told radio station WCBS 880 in 2009 that, "I think it is clear, and I say this perhaps as a matter of observation, and as a matter of fact: There is probably no worse major-league facility right now in North America than the Nassau Coliseum."

Born in 1979 to Francis Purcell, a Nassau County executive, and John O. Pickett, the Islanders general partner, the lease as welcomed with open arms as a way to keep the family from breaking up after seven challenging years together.  "By obligating the team to play all home games in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, we have protected ourselves against the loss of a prime tenant who generates over $1 million in revenue for the county," Mr. Purcell said at the time.

That same year, the lease was joined by a sibling - a contract between Nassau County and SMG (née Spectacor Management Group, née Hyatt Management Corporation), who agreed to operate the Coliseum. In 1985, the then six-year-old documents were endowed with generous extensions until 2015.

Two decades later, the county and SMG had both accumulated a great deal of wealth thanks to their association with the Islanders, whose fortunes and place in New York society had taken a turn for the worst. Pickett had sold the team twice - first to conman John Spano, then to Steven Gluckstern and brothers Howard and Edward Milstein, who sought emancipation from the lease and engaged in a highly combative and bombastic battle over a plot of county real estate.

Mr. Gluckstern and the Milsteins soon sold the Islanders to Charles B. Wang, who was the lease's final caretaker.

Mr. Wang attempted to rebuild the relationship with Nassau County through expensive and substantial displays of public affection including an offer to build a new coliseum as well as additional buildings. According to those close to the family, Mr. Wang was not expected to reconcile with SMG, and his efforts to patch things up with the county were not reciprocated, possibly due to other influences.

That the Islanders' lease with Nassau County and the county's contract with SMG died on the same day is a fitting, if downcast, end to a deeply troubled family inured to controversy.

The lease is survived by the New York Islanders, who currently reside in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Yes, this is supposed to be funny. To be honest, even I think it's a little weird. I just figured someone had to say something about the expiration of that damn lease.