Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Lighthouse Project: String Theory

Chris Botta is convinced that Charles Wang's self-imposed deadline of the beginning of next season for receiving a decision on the Lighthouse Project is non negotiable. Writes Botta,

"What’s different about April of 2009? Actually, something monumental. For better or worse, we are finally at the end of this horror story. Wang and Scott Rechler will know by the start of the Islanders’ 2009-10 NHL season in October if they have a deal with Nassau and Hempstead. If they don’t, consider them very unrestricted free agents."

Perhaps even more telling, he concludes his entry with this:

"At this juncture, knowing the options, I think I’d sign up for Queens."

For those of you who don't follow the Islanders regularly, know that Mr. Botta's connections to the Islanders are as strong as anyone's. For him to make that statement at this juncture speaks volumes about how hazardous the road to approval of the project remains.

Charles Wang has absorbed losses as owner of the franchise for nearly a decade. He was prepared to do that when he bought the team. It seemed that he was prepared to absorb red ink for a while longer if it meant allowing this process to work itself out—even it meant that a game of political hot potato got in the way. Mr. Wang's patience appears to have run out.

What does this mean for Thursday night's meeting at the Marriott? The sense is that Mr. Wang and Scott Rechler, his development partner are prepared to make game-changing comments about the future of the Lighthouse Project. However, my feeling is that any perceived grandstanding or ultimatum-giving is still not in their best interest. Fortunately for them, they do not have to take that approach.

The Community Outreach Education session is an open forum. You can bet those in attendance will ask the tough questions. I fully expect Wang and Rechler to give frank responses that could serve the same purpose as a game-changing speech would. You could even go so far as to suggest that this event is set up for that purpose.

Could there be some kind of significant news coming out of this event? Sure—among the leading contenders would be an announcement that the developers and the County have finalized the framework of a new lease for the Coliseum property, which would have to be voted on by the board of County Legislators. This is one of the key moves that the developers and their governmental supporters can take to keep momentum going in their direction.

But how much momentum can they really create? Knowing the political forces at work, as explored by B.D. Gallof at Islanders Independent and Nick Giglia at Let There Be Light(house), I think I, too, would sign up for Queens. How can you expect to survive a situation in which one political party wants to campaign on the project while the other doesn't want to take responsibility for it? Ideology and power trump all.

It is also with significant reservation that I say I would sign up for Queens. I have friends who, understandably, scream at the notion of the Islanders leaving Long Island proper. I respect the loss they would feel. I also fully recognize being part of a minority whose ears perk up at the idea of the Islanders actually being closer and more accessible in Queens.

Clearly, the Islanders could benefit from being part of a new development hub that already includes Citi Field. Being in the confines of New York City opens many doors, not the least of which would be a path for casual fans in Queens, Brooklyn, and other surrounding areas to become ardent supporters. The NYC address also raises the marketability cachet of the team. It's the difference between being "out there" and "in here."

But I'm also aware of the Queens option being cast in a Utopian light. How many Nassau- and Suffolk-based fans would go from ardent to casual, at best? And who's to say the same political paralysis wouldn't develop in Queens County? What if the owners of NYC's only current NHL franchise fear a cut into their market and call in favors to hinder a Willets Point solution? The ice isn't always smoother on the other side of the county line.

The cautious approach would have been for Mr. Wang and Mr. Wechler to let the review process play out with no strings attached. It is, by design, a slow process. But as they look around and see so many of the other players attached to strings, it's hard to blame them for wanting to pull a few of their own.

(This article was originally published at

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