Will Nassau County Politics Ever Leave the New York Islanders Alone?

In the latest saga of Nassau County politics vs. the New York Islanders, County Executive Ed Mangano issued a statement calling for investors to develop the Nassau Hub.

Will John Tavares & Matt Moulson have a new home after the Isles’ lease expires in Nassau County? (BridgetDS/Flickr)

Mangano released a Request for Qualifications from a “master developer”, but Islanders fans have heard Nassau County politicians sing the same tunes quite often. Recently, Kate Murray expressed her “desires” to keep the Islanders in Nassau County and stated that it has always been her intention to keep Long Island’s only professional sports franchise in town. However, politics continue to dominate Nassau County and the future of the New York Islanders on Long Island.

While Mangano’s attempt to lure a developer to the Nassau Hub could be seen as commendable, one has to wonder if this is yet another feeble attempt to assuage a fan-base that has not heard anything definite about their team’s arena situation in several months. The failure of the Lighthouse Project and last year’s August 1st referendum vote have created doubt among Islanders fans over whether the team will be in Nassau County after 2015.

Mangano might be saying all the right things right now, but Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs might have already ended this latest round of speculation as Newsday illustrated the following:

“Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs called Republican Mangano’s plan ‘counterproductive’ because it removes the county’s ability to deal directly with the Islanders’ leadership.”

Jacobs’ portrayal of Mangano’s plan being “counterproductive” sounded eerily similar to Kate Murray’s statements of Charles Wang’s Lighthouse Project being “too grandiose” for Nassau County. At this point in time, Mangano might have realized that Nassau County could become even more financially strapped if the Isles leave Long Island. However, Jacobs’ short reply says a lot more than just a few short words on why this current plan isn’t feasible for the county.

As of now, the New York Islanders see some percentage of money that comes from parking and concessions as per their lease agreement with SMG. Furthermore, the Isles and Wang pay almost 50% of their advertising income to SMG and Nassau County. In short, Jay Jacobs might not like the fact that another investor might block the county’s ability to make money off of the Islanders. If the Isles’ current situation with SMG and Nassau County does not allow Charles Wang to make much money, then why would any savvy investor agree to terms where it’d be hard for them to turn a profit?

Maybe Mangano might be sincere in his most recent attempts to find a developer that will keep the Islanders right where they are,

Charles Wang is a native of Long Island and might want to keep his Islanders right where they are, but is it worth the investment if he can hardly turn a profit?

but it is yet to be seen if the County’s politics will interfere in this latest round of arena rumblings. Charles Wang had come up with an economically feasible plan that would have beautified and brought in revenue to the area around the Nassau Coliseum, but Kate Murray decided that the plan was too big for Nassau County and its residents. If Nassau County is expecting an investor to help fund the development around the Coliseum area and hardly make a profit once the area is developed, then the County and its politicians will most certainly lose the Isles come 2015 and will be hard pressed to find a dedicated investor that will want to undertake a project under such strict guidelines.

Last year’s failed referendum could be understandable on many levels. Nassau County already has some of the highest land and property taxes in the nation and raising them further probably did not appeal to the majority of people already living in the County. However, the raise in taxes could have been justified once one of Wang’s projects was completed. Nearly $800 Million would be spent to beautify the area around Nassau Coliseum and give the Isles a new home, but the money would have been well spent as the Islanders are a Live-In resident in Nassau County that provide the area with much needed revenue on 41 separate occasions throughout the hockey season.

While the Islanders might not be drawing the same crowds that they were attracting back in the early 2000s, Nassau County still makes money off of the Islanders. Concerts and performances at the Coliseum can only bring in so much revenue per year, so it is likely inevitable that Nassau County’s taxes will be exponentially raised if the Isles leave after their lease expires. Losing the Islanders would hurt Nassau County in the long run, but the County’s politicians seem to only be concerned with a way that they can keep the Isles and still make a significant amount of money off of them.

Since Wang has claimed losses in the millions for the last few seasons, not allowing the Islanders to turn a profit might not be the best way to keep the team’s owner happy. If the Islanders leave Long Island and an investor does not step up to the plate, then it is also likely that the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will have to meet its demise at some point in time. Even though venues are still booked at the NVMC, the facility is far from being a state of the art venue and would struggle to maintain operations without the Isles as their primary tenant since the County rarely dips into their coffers to fix the arena.

The state of the NVMC is a point that can be discussed at various lengths, but the bigger issue is what the County will do if the Coliseum ceases to be operational. Demolishing the Coliseum won’t be such a light task for Nassau County’s residents either as it will be the county tax payer who will have to fork over the money necessary to take down the arena. While County politicians will probably drag their feet when it comes to any issues that involves keeping the Islanders on Long Island, the average Nassau County resident will pay the most in the long run if the Islanders leave.

The New York Islanders might be stuck in a very grave predicament, but it should come as no surprise to hockey fans if Charles Wang decides to move his franchise to an area where feuding politicians won’t meddle with the team’s future. The Islanders deserve better than what Nassau County is currently giving them and having a County politician “renew” their interest in “Saving the Isles” because of their upcoming reelection campaign is now becoming more transparent than ever. Nassau County might not think too much of a potential departure of Long Island’s only professional sports franchise, but the County is already in financial despair, what do you think will happen if the area loses its only guaranteed revenue-generating tenant?