New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on March 27 that the New York Islanders’ Belmont Arena construction, slated to be opened for the 2021-22 season, has been stopped due to Coronavirus concerns. Initially, development continued as the rest of the state was virtually shut down with all construction deemed necessary. Now, only vital construction will continue and Belmont Arena will sit indefinitely. If the arena cannot be finished on time, what options do the Islanders have? Did New York State make the right decision?
Was it the Smart Decision?
Of course. The world has not faced a situation similar to this since the early 1900s with Influenza. The NHL continued through many troubling times but have stopped playing due to COVID-19. If the league had to close their doors due to fears of spreading, the construction is already unneeded.
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The New York state government has done a tremendous job in their handling of this tragedy and this was another correct decision. Hockey does not even compare to the more important things going on right now. (from ‘Work at Islanders’ Belmont arena stops amid state’s ban on non-essential construction,’ Newsday, 03/27/2020) There’s no point risking spreading the virus to more people to make sure an arena gets built on time. I would love for Belmont Arena to be built on schedule, but you need to weigh the consequences. The current plan is to resume building on April 21, and I’m no expert, but that seems pretty bullish.
Best case scenario, this virus is mostly contained by May or June, and construction is a couple of months behind. If Belmont Arena were not ready for the start of the 2021-22 season, the Islanders would be able to play more games at the Nassau Coliseum before completion. The last time a team played in one arena for part of the year before moving into a new full-time home was during the 2003-04 season. The Arizona Coyotes began the season playing at what is now Talking Stick Resort Arena before moving to Gila River Arena for their 35th game. The Islanders franchise does have a history of moving games for different arenas in the middle of the season, so it wouldn’t be anything new.
Another possibility would be to play the preseason/first couple of games entirely on the road, before opening the new home. The New Jersey Devils did this in the 2007-08 season, with Lou Lamoriello as their general manager. Lamoriello has experience in situations similar to this, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the franchise took this route if the arena could not be built in time.
What Could the Islanders Do?
Fortunately for them, the Islanders have a lot of potential arenas to play in. The obvious answer would be the Nassau Coliseum considering they’re playing there all of next season. And we know Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment would love the extra revenue. Islander fans would be able to know precisely when the last game at the Coliseum would take place before the new era and there’d be a proper goodbye. Game 6 against the Washington Capitals in 2015 felt like a send-off for the place fans had called home for over 40 seasons. Imagine the atmosphere with a definitive final game ever at the Coliseum.
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While Islander fans are super excited to see their team finally have a long-term home, we cannot risk the health and safety of those working on the project just so Belmont Arena is built on time. We are living in an unprecedented era and considering this is not essential work, the building will wait. Islander fans were patient for almost thirty years for their forever home to get built, what are another couple of months going to do?
In the meantime, make sure you’re washing your hands.