It’s been just under four years since Nassau County voters turned down a plan to renovate the ailing Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with taxpayer money, and now with the Islanders first season in Brooklyn just around the corner there’s some huge news out of the Town of Hempstead.
Yesterday, the Hempstead Town Board unanimously passed a plan that would renovate the 91 aces of property where the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum currently stands vacant. The plan includes restaurants, a mammoth movie theater, and numerous retail outlets. There’s quite a bit of vacant property to work with here, and it seems like Bruce Ratner intends on using up every last inch.
The Coliseum itself? It’ll get a makeover. Unfortunately, that includes downsizing from just over 16,000 to 13,000 seats, well below the number expected to house an NHL franchise. None of this is exactly news, but it was just five months ago when rumors were at an all-time high that the Islanders and Barclays Center may have a deal in place for the team to leave after just five years. This confirmation of 13,000 seats may have crushed some hopes.
However, with a state of the art building it might not be out of the question to go back and renovate the new Coliseum in a few years and add some seats. Remember that the Islanders just finished playing in the third smallest arena in the NHL, and will be moving to an arena that’s even smaller (15,813 is the official capacity for hockey at Barclays Center) in a few months. Winnipeg’s MTS Centre is the league’s current smallest, holding just 15,004, and Florida’s old Miami Arena was the smallest arena planned for long-term use in league history at 14,703. When the Flames first moved to Calgary, from 1980-83 they played at the Stampede Corral which sat under 7,000!
For reference, six current AHL franchises and the NCAA teams at Ohio State and Nebraska-Omaha will play in larger arenas than the New York Islanders next season.
13,000 seats is an odd amount. Bruce Ratner’s plan of bringing the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to the new Nassau Coliseum is well-documented, despite the Sound Tigers organization itself distancing itself.
Saffan: "We absolutely do not have any arrangement in place (re: Sound TIgers to NVMC). Our owner has not executed any agreement"
— Michael Fornabaio (@fornabaioctp) August 16, 2013
With 13,000 seats, an AHL team would play in an arena with a hell of a lot of empty chairs every night. In the 2014-15 season, no franchise averaged 10,000 fans per night, and only eight were able to hit the 6,000 mark. Even if the Sound Tigers (or whatever they would be called) were in the upper third of the league in attendance, there’s a good chance nearly half the arena would be vacant. And if we’re being honest, Long Island hasn’t exactly done a great job supporting their fringe sports franchises. I’m looking at you, New York Dragons/New York Saints/Long Island Lizards/etc.
At the very least, what the number 13,000 does represent is potential. In four years, Ratner could easily have worked out a deal to expand the building by a few thousand seats. Or maybe it’s about time the NHL experimented with the standing room models that arenas in soccer and baseball have utilized. It would mean just a slight expansion of the space itself without adding seats, and adding some cheap tickets that may bring in casual fans who enjoy the bar atmosphere of these sections. If Barclays Center doesn’t work out financially the way the Islanders are hoping it will, that five-year out clause that may or may not actually exist could come in handy.
And hey, if not, we’ll probably get to see minor league hockey and indoor lacrosse in a comfy new building.