You know that 17,000-seat arena the Islanders owners (along with a few other companies) are building at Belmont Park right now? The one that will be the Islanders “forever home” starting for the 2021-22 season?
Remember when the team decided to make a triumphant return to Nassau Coliseum in 2019, playing a split schedule between there and Barclays Center for two seasons before announcing - via the governor of New York, no less - that the entire 2020-21 season would be played at the Coliseum, which was what everyone kind of assumed would happen anyway?
Remember when the final lawsuits trying to stop the machines at Belmont were tossed aside and you thought: finally, the days of arena drama distracting and obstructing the Islanders organization and its long-suffering fanbase from their shared dream of winning a Stanley Cup were, at long last, put to an end?
Yeah, well, about all that...
A report today from Bloomberg News says that Mikhail Prokhorov, who’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment company runs the Coliseum, is looking to close the old barn up until investors can be found to pick up the tab on some outstanding loans.
From the article by Patrick Clark:
Onexim has told potential investors that it would turn over the lease in return for assuming roughly $100 million in loans on the property, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. The firm, which is laying off arena employees, could also surrender the lease to its lenders, the person said.
The lease also, “includes development rights that could be valuable to property investors,” per the story.
Onexim bought 85 percent of controlling interest in the Coliseum in 2017 and leases the building from Nassau County. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard reports that Prokhorov wanted to unload the venue to someone, literally anyone, else. Under Bruce Ratner, who bought the building after the Islanders moved to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2015, the Coliseum underwent $180 million worth of renovations including new seats, new Barclays-adjacent paint and signage and the erecting of the world’s largest tinfoil hat over the top of it.
The Islanders return and a never-ending series of Billy Joel concerts was no doubt a boost to the box office. But as we’ve known for years, making money in the almost-50-year-old barn is a tough go for anyone, even without a global pandemic shutting down basically every gathering of more than half a dozen people for three months and counting.
As the NHL slowly creeps towards a makeshift way to finish the 2019-20 season using hub cities and a 24-team playoff format, the next season looks to possibly start in January of 2021. That presumably gives the Islanders several months to sort this all out and either find a way to play at the Coliseum again, or - gulp - return to the maligned Barclays Center, which we can assume would be slightly less triumphant than their return to Uniondale last year.
A follow-up story in Newsday by Jim Baumbach, Candace Ferrette and Robert Brodsky makes it clear that it would most likely be “Hello, Brooklyn” once again:
If the Coliseum is closed, the Islanders would be expected to play their home games in Brooklyn, as per the terms of their 2018 unusual agreement that initially split games between the Coliseum and Barclays.
Over at The Athletic, Arthur Staple took a look at some of the options for the Islanders should the door remain locked at the Coliseum. The most likely scenario would be Onexim, Nassau County and the team’s owners figuring out a solution to re-open the Coliseum. Crashing again on the couch at Barclays might actually be less realistic, contract or no contract.
Given all the ice issues during the Isles’ four seasons of full- and part-time play in Brooklyn, it’s fair to wonder if that building will ever put down an ice sheet again. It’s costly and the building had to use a ton of extra energy to make it work.
So even though the agreement says the Isles must go there, it’s hard to envision a reunion in Brooklyn unless it’s the last recourse. Kind of how the Islanders got to BK in the first place, when the late Charles Wang had exhausted all his Long Island options and wasn’t willing to sell the team so it could be moved out of the area.
That’s all assuming fans will even be allowed into buildings anyway, whenever the time comes. Could they just throw some ice down at the Belmont construction site and play there until the rest of the structure is completed around them? I’m gonna go ahead and guess no, but I wouldn’t put it past them trying.
A statement from Prokhorov’s office in the Newsday story says in part that the company has, “engaged with Nassau County, other important stakeholders, and potential investors to find the right party or parties to take over operations of the Coliseum. We cannot predict or control the actions of other interested stakeholders.”
In other words: we don’t know much right now but simply finding a place for the Islanders to play could be of paramount importance in the near future.
Ah... a most unwelcome taste of normalcy...