New York Islanders and Their Lighthouse: A Tragedy in the Making

Frank Trovato@@voiceislanderfnCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2009

UNIONDALE, NY - SEPTEMBER 23:  John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders skates in warmups prior to playing against the New Jersey Devils in preseason action at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on September 23, 2009 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Islanders are either a franchise in grave trouble or an organization on the rise. Which one is actually realized hinges on one thing—the Lighthouse Project.

People with sensible minds who actually use the lump of gray matter between their ears can see the big picture.

Do you see it?

First things first—playing devil's advocate and to show that I am not simply a one-sided, "just build it" proponent, I will say that Charles Wang is using the Islanders.

There, I said it. Charles Wang is using the Islanders to get his legacy project built. He bought the Islanders when the fact of the matter is no one—and I do mean no one—wanted them. Why did he see value in the team when no one else did?

The Milstien/Gluckstern ownership group drove a young, promising team into the ground and they slapped the Islanders' fanbase directly in the face, which at the time was like slapping an abused wife after rescuing her from OJ Simpson.

Charles Wang came in and immediately gave the organization a breath of fresh air for the first time in many years. He spent inordinate amounts of money bringing in proven NHL talent. He has gone on to lose an average of $20 million a season since he took over.

Why would he do that? Because he's a great guy who made his billions by just writing personal checks to make up for the losses on his hockey team every year?


Charles Wang bought the Islanders, the Marriott Hotel, the Omni building, and all the surrounding real estate and brought in a partner (only the largest builder on the Island in Scott Rechler) because he wants to build the Lighthouse Project.

Along the way, I think Mr. Wang has taken a strong liking to his hockey team, but make no mistake, Charles Wang bought the Islanders so he could use them to get his dream project off the ground.

That being said, let's ask ourselves the following question: Why not let a man who wants to spend over $3.5 billion putting up new buildings, housing units, retail space, hotels, and condos (and, oh yeah, a nice, new arena) in what can only be described as a suburban oasis?

While we are thinking about that question, let's consider what the opposition is saying. And we all know who the opposition is.

The town of Hempstead and your local elected officials are the No.1 reason we don't know what is going to happen. They won't say no, but they won't say yes. They say...nothing. They ask questions. They ask for more studies. They ask for delays. They make off handed comments about how the designs "looks like a city." They talk about traffic and waste water.

You know what they never talk about? They never talk about the positives. Ever.

The local politicians all want to be able to say "look what I got for my voters" by questioning The Lighthouse Group at a public hearing when they already know the answers to the questions. They all claim to be looking out for their constituents.

The amount of BS that represents is taller then the highest building Charles Wang wants to build.

The fact is that they all want to make a name for themselves on the backs and at the expense of Charles Wang.

These politicians are looking out for themselves. That is what they do. They live term to term with their insignificant little jobs and put their little signs up on Hempstead Turnpike right in front of the rotten site that is the Nassau Coliseum Parking Lot.

Now people are talking about scaling down.

Why should he scale anything down? Did Jerry Jones have to scale down his plans for a stadium that hosts eight football games a year? Did the Yankees have to scale down their new palace of baseball? The Mets? The Giants and Jets?

The man wants to spend his money building a new suburban center the likes many of us haven't seen in our lifetimes.

The questions are being answered. The concerns are mostly unfounded and the facts are clear.

The real issue here goes way beyond the New York Islanders.

The Islanders are a microcosm of what is happening on Long Island. No one wants to live here except those who make seven figures and live comfortably above the pay grade where higher taxes, ridiculous electric rates, and selfish elected officials can't affect them.

People are moving to new suburban centers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, upstate New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Entire families are abandoning Long Island because of living expenses and—most importantly—school and property taxes.

Young, single professionals would be insane to choose Long Island as a spot to build their careers when they can live in a revitalized Brooklyn and Manhattan.

There was recently a study done that was published in Newsday last year. Of the people currently living on Long Island, 55 percent were either considering a move off Long Island or were actively pursuing one.

The average age of residents on Long Island goes up every year because young people starting careers and young married couples simply cannot afford to live here, so instead of building their lives here like their parents did, they choose to build their lives elsewhere.

There is nothing—no incentive, nothing exciting—about Long Island to keep people here.

If that is the case, if you were in another area of the country and looking to move to the New York area, why would you choose choose Long Island (or Nassau County)?

We can estimate how many people want to move out of Nassau County and Long Island. Can we estimate how many people have an interest in moving into Long Island?

I would not be far off if I said the number was close to zero.

Is the Lighthouse Project the answer? No one can know that. But it sure would ignite excitement and new possibilities around Long Island we haven't seen since Levitown was built.

What we do know is something has to be done. Charles Wang is not looking to displace businesses or residents like the Brooklyn Yards project, which in my mind should be built also.

Charles Wang is trying to spend his own money building something that can entice people to think about actually staying on or moving to Long Island.

If Charles Wang does not get his project, there is the real possibility that he will abandon it. If he does, he will sell the Islanders or move them.

What happens then? What will be built on that site? The real estate is too valuable and something will be built there. I am frightened at the prospect of what could wind up there in that scenario and you should be also.

The Islanders are just a microcosm of the real issues surrounding Long Island. No one wants to play here, no one wants to stay here. The people that do stay here are forced to do so until a time when they can—and will—leave.

What good is having our shining, new prospect, John Tavares, if he plays six losing seasons in a rotting arena with no fans? What is he going to do? Stick around?

He will do what a graduate of Hofstra with a 4.0 GPA and a degree on his way to a bright career will do: Leave Long Island.

It is time for the opposition to accept the fact that we need a project like this to have a shot at saving Long Island from the true enemy: the mass exodus of its residents to greener pastures and the absolute non existence of a motive to bring people to Long Island as a destination.

Think about it.


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