The bid is In for Islanders’ Belmont arena
Brooklyn-Based Franchise Officially in Running for New L.I. Home
Start spreading the news. They’re leaving … sometime soon.
The New York Islanders’ tenure in our fair borough saw the beginning of its end Thursday morning when the Downtown Brooklyn-based NHL franchise officially entered its Bid for Proposal for a new arena site in Belmont, N.Y.
Dubbed a “comprehensive proposal to create a world-class sports and entertainment destination at Belmont Park,” in a team-issued statement Thursday, the Belmont bid has been in the works for months as the Islanders are expected to opt out of their 25-year lease agreement at Barclays Center this coming January.
The group that submitted the bid is called New York Arena Partners, LLC, and features a collaborative effort from Islander co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, Sterling Project Development, an organization spearheaded by New York Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, and Oak View Group, which is backed by Madison Square Garden.
“We look forward to discussing [the proposal] with the Empire State Development Corporation,” the statement said of the Isles’ bid, which isn’t the only one in play for this estimated 43-acre lot adjacent to the legendary Belmont Race Track.
Recent reports indicate that NYCFC, the Yankee Stadium-based Major League Soccer franchise, also was expected to submit a bid for Belmont by Thursday’s 2 p.m. deadline.
According to Newsday, the Coney Island-based New York Cosmos entered a bid with the Empire State Development Corporation for a Belmont arena, seating upwards of 25,000 fans, just last year. But that plan was ultimately rejected.
Virtually from the start, the Islanders have had issues with their new home since leaving their only previous one, the now-renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, heretofore known as NYCB Live.
Whether it was shoddy ice conditions, poor sight lines for fans or an entire section devoid of seating down by the ice, Barclays has not been an ideal locale for a team that spent its first 43 seasons in Uniondale, N.Y.
Nor has Barclays Center owner Mikhail Prokhorov, also the owner of the Brooklyn Nets and NYCB Live, been enamored with having to pay out more than $50 million annually to the Isles, regardless of ever-diminishing home attendance figures, which ranked 28th last season in the 30-team league.
This parting will be a mutual one whenever it officially takes place, but for now, the Isles will kick off the home portion of their upcoming 2017-18 campaign on Saturday, Oct. 7 versus Buffalo at Barclays.
The team got a strong indication that its most fervent fans still reside on Long Island earlier this month, when the Isles kicked off their preseason slate by selling out NYCB Live for their exhibition opener against Philadelphia in Uniondale.
“It had the atmosphere like most Saturday home games when we were here and pretty close to what we had in the playoffs,” Islanders team captain John Tavares said after scoring two goals, including the overtime game-winner, in a 3-2 preseason triumph over Philadelphia on that Sunday afternoon.
“It was a lot of fun. I was trying to knock the rust off, but at the same time take it in because it’s such a great place,” he added.
That “atmosphere” has been sorely lacking at Barclays, despite the Isles going a combined 47-23-12 during their first two seasons on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has already shot down any hopes of the Isles returning to the “Old Barn”, saying earlier this month that he doesn’t consider the 13,000-plus seat building to be a “viable option.”
“I do think the Islanders have options, very good options,” Bettman added, doubtlessly alluding to the Belmont bid. “They are in the process of evaluating what makes the most sense for the franchise and, in particular, for their fans.”
Tavares’ pending free agent status following this coming season may also come into play here.
The two-time Hart Trophy finalist, who has yet to sign a long-term extension with the only franchise he has ever known, missed the Isles’ final five games last year after injuring his hamstring on what many, including some of his own teammates, suspected were poor ice conditions at Barclays.
Having a firm idea of where they will be playing following the 2017-18 campaign should give Tavares more incentive to stay in orange and blue, and ink what is expected to be an eight-year pact worth at least $80 million.
The Isles’ Belmont bid, which includes plans for “retail, entertainment, sports and hospitality options,” will likely not be decided upon until well into their third season in Brooklyn.
Until then, the Isles will have to keep skating along in what has already begun to feel like a temporary home.
Isle Have Another: The Isles will wrap up their preseason slate this weekend, visiting Buffalo on Friday night and Philadelphia Sunday evening. The team is then expected to resume practicing until next Friday night’s regular-season opener at Columbus against the Blue Jackets, with head coach Doug Weight expected to make the necessary roster cuts in advance of that trip to Ohio.
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