Tradition will have a new home in Belmont.
According to multiple reports, the New York Islanders earned the winning bid for a new arena located in the vicinity of Belmont Park with an official announcement to come on Wednesday. Empire State Development, the organization behind the redevelopment of Belmont, selected the Isles’ bid over a competing one from the NYCFC soccer team.
“On a good note, I think it’s great for the fans. It’s great for the organization,” Weight said. “Everybody from the owners on down worked hard. It feels like it’s going to be good news. If that’s what occurs, it’s awesome.”
For nearly three decades, the Islanders fought tirelessly to secure a new facility to house the franchise and provide the necessary revenue to compete with their contemporaries. The initial rumblings about building a new arena to replace the Nassau Coliseum came during the waning years of John Pickett’s ownership tenure in the early 1990s when the team entered a period of transition and uncertainty both on and off the ice a decade removed from the glory days of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships.
Pickett and his successors, such as John Spano and Howard Milstein were unable to generate the necessary support to retain a residence in Nassau County for the Islanders, placing the club in a state of uncertainty concerning their future. Charles Wang, who purchased the franchise from Milstein in 2000 quickly poured money into the organization, bringing in Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca as free agents and installing Peter Laviolette as head coach.
As the Islanders experienced a change in fortune with consecutive postseason appearances, plans to build a new arena continued with the “Lighthouse Project” a proposal to redevelop the Nassau Coliseum and its surrounding communities. The ambitious plan failed to garner widespread support and fell flat in a referendum in 2011.
With the Nassau Coliseum lease set to expire at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, Wang chose to explore other options within the metropolitan area and settled on a move to their current home at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Although the Barclays Center is a state-of-the-art facility, it was not designed with hockey in mind.
The result was an arena retrofitted to fit a hockey rink with a configuration similar to the Phoenix Coyotes’ original home at American West Arena. The Islanders enjoyed their first playoff series win since 1992-93 in their maiden season at the Barclays Center. Wang would soon sell majority ownership to Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, who hedged their bets on constructing an arena primarily for hockey closer to the team’s original home and fanbase on Long Island and intend to break ground on the new Belmont arena in the coming months.
“The owners and the organization, old and new, have just been committed and worked really really hard. I can promise you that,” Weight said. It would be (the Belmont Arena) a really great thing.”
The proposed Belmont arena will sit near the Belmont Park racetrack and house 18,000 fans with no obstructed seating. Additional plans include between 400,000-450,000-square feet for a hotel, retail space, an entertainment hub, and restaurants. A new arena for the Islanders enables the club to remain financially solvent and build around a burgeoning young core and potentially retain franchise center John Tavares, who becomes eligible for free agency on July 1, 2018.
“I think for us as players and our families and mostly our fans and fanbase really much deserved. It’s where the team has come from and really where the identity is,” Tavares said. “If made official, it will be great news and exciting opportunity ahead.”
The Islanders will also become the primary tenant in their new facility with little concern regarding scheduling games. The travel situation will also improve for Isles’ fans, who live primarily in the suburbs and currently rely on using the LIRR to travel to games in Brooklyn, while the players will remain close to their new practice facility in Syosset. As for their future at the Barclays Center, Ledecky indicated in October that the Isles would play there during the 2018-19 season, though either side could renegotiate the terms of the current lease in January.
December 20th Belmont announcement could stand with Bobby Nystrom’s OT winning goal in Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals as one of the most crucial moments in franchise history. Years of lost opportunities and fallen expectations now contain the silver lining of a team secure with their future with better days on the horizon. The Islanders long sought to recapture the pride and tradition of their most prosperous era and intend on taking a significant step in pursuing the goal.