Brooklyn Boro

Isles ownership solely ‘focused’ on Belmont

Ledecky Determined to Relocate Franchise from Brooklyn to L.I. Arena

October 11, 2017 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The New York Islanders have played well at Barclays Center since moving in back in 2015, but the franchise is almost certainly on the move, unlikely to play here at all after the 2018-19 season if ownership has its way. AP Photo by Julie Jacobson
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We all knew the Bid for Proposal was in.

But what wasn’t clear until Tuesday afternoon is exactly how determined the New York Islanders’ ownership group is to get the hell out of Brooklyn.

Isles co-owner Jon Ledecky, speaking at a media luncheon in Manhattan, finally lent his voice to what has been a foregone conclusion for many months now, our borough’s NHL franchise is on its way out, likely by no later than the 2019-20 season.

“We’re focused on getting that shovel in the ground and move forward on Belmont,” said Ledecky, who along with fellow co-owner Scott Malkin and their New York Arena Partners, LLC, group officially entered a bid to build a new arena adjacent to the legendary race track in Elmont, N.Y., on Sept. 28.

“We’re not concerned at all [about the interim],” Ledecky added. “Our concern and our focus should be on Belmont. Off of that, everything else becomes clear. We either get Belmont or we don’t get Belmont. That’s exactly our focus — to get Belmont.”

Whether it’s been sloppy ice conditions, poor sight lines for an ever-dwindling crowd at Downtown’s Barclays Center or behind-the-scenes feuding with arena owner Mikhail Prokhorov over the $50 million-plus the Isles receive every year they remain in Brooklyn, this relocation has appeared doomed from the start.   

“Barclays is a wonderful place,” Ledecky noted just after the Isles headed out of their Downtown haunts for a three-game California road trip. “Unfortunately, at the time it was built, they decided not to configure it for hockey.”

Ledecky revealed that despite having an upcoming January opt-out from their original 25-year “iron-clad” lease agreement, the Isles are contractually bound to play out the rest of this season and next at Barclays.

But after that, the Isles will either have to find an interim home while the Belmont arena is built, or simply have no place to play if they ultimately lose the bid, which will not be decided upon by Empire State Development for several months.

“We have not received any formal or informal communication about a timeline,” Ledecky said.

“We obviously hope it will be sooner rather than later and we would hope that our proposal is the best proposal. We don’t know if they’ve seen three or 10 or five, but we certainly put a lot of time and resources and effort and the arena partnership group did in making a first-class presentation,” he added.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has already shot down the idea of the Isles moving back to Nassau Coliseum, now known as NYCB Live, which was their home for the first 43 years of the franchise’s existence.

“Nassau Coliseum is a lovely spot, but the commissioner of the NHL is on public record saying it’s not viable for an NHL team,” Ledecky noted. “You have to have a focus on a place that will be our home, which is Belmont Park.”

That singular focus isn’t being driven by the Isles’ ownership group alone.

New York Arena Partners also includes Sterling Project Development and the Oak View Group. Sterling Project Development is controlled by the Wilpon family, which owns the New York Mets, and Oak View Group has helped in the design and construction of arenas across North America, according to NHL.com.

That’s significant backing for a group determined to build a state-of-the-art facility on a giant parcel of land located on the border of Nassau County and Queens, which is much closer to the hotbed of this franchise’s fan base.

“We didn’t just throw a piece of paper across the room. We really were thoughtful,” Ledecky said of the collaborative bid.

“Obviously from a self-interested perspective, we think we’re the best and we want to send that message to the community, to the media, to our fans, to our constituents through all the different areas … We want to win. We want Belmont to be our permanent home.”

Despite having a 48-23-13 record, not including winning their first playoff series in 23 years, at Barclays since moving in to begin the 2015-16 season, the Isles’ home attendance figures have been among the worst in the NHL since the relocation.

Last year, the Isles, who fell a single point shy of reaching the playoffs for a third consecutive year, ranked 28th on the 30-team circuit in home attendance, out-drawing only Arizona and Carolina with just over 13,000 fans per game.

Thus far this season, the Isles rank last among the 23 teams that have played a home game with 12,953 over the first two contests, including a sparse collection of 10,673 for Monday afternoon’s 3-2 shootout loss to St. Louis.

Ledecky is confident that the Isles will be moving into Belmont by as early as the 2020-21 campaign, if in fact the bid goes their way.

He also believes having an arena to call their very own will be instrumental in the franchise’s success going forward, especially if it helps the Isles lure team captain and free-agent-to-be John Tavares into re-signing with the only team he has every known.

“People 25 years from now aren’t even going to remember we owned the team,” Ledecky insisted.

“They’ll remember that, ‘Oh, those former owners, they built that great building for the team and it won more [Stanley] Cups. That’s what we want our legacy to be. This is something that we think is right for the history and the heritage of the Islanders.”

As for Brooklyn’s place in the lineage of Islander hockey, it appears as if it is doomed to be remembered as a temporary and somewhat uncomfortable home for a franchise that once boasted it would be here for no less than a quarter of a century.

 


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