A popular trivia question among New York fans is to name the tri-state area’s 10 professional sports franchises. The one that most often slips through the cracks is the New York Islanders. But the Islanders may not be a part of the answer for much longer after Nassau County residents declined to fund a $400 million plan to replace the Islanders’ ancient arena.
Nassau County headed to the polls Monday, August 1 and voted 57 percent to 43 percent against the plan that would have resulted in a new arena, a minor league ballpark and a developmental hub on the property currently occupied by the 39-year-old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The plan called for property taxes on Nassau County to be raised from 3.5 percent to 4 percent.
While Nassau County executives and Islanders owner Charles Wang each expressed defiant optimism that a deal could still be worked out to build the Islanders a new home, the team’s long-term future in the metropolitan area is fuzzy at best.
“Tonight is not an ending — it is a beginning,” Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano told reporters Monday night. “We will find a new path, a path that solves the problems and blockades to redeveloping this property.”
Wang said in a statement released today, Wednesday, August 3, that his only goals are to keep the Islanders on Long Island and win the Stanley Cup, but the Islanders’ long-term future in the metropolitan area is fuzzy at best. He has also repeatedly said he won’t try and break the Islanders’ lease at Nassau Coliseum, which runs through 2015.
However, the distaste Nassau County residents already feel towards their taxes and the increasingly apathetic attitude towards the Islanders suggests there may be too many obstacles to overcome. The Tax Foundation in Washington reports the median property tax in Nassau County is $8,206, the second-highest figure in the United States behind only Hunterdon County in New Jersey.
Nearly two decades of struggles on the ice, meanwhile, have cost the Islanders dearly at the gate and cost them a generation of fans born after the franchise’s dynastic run of four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since the spring of 1993, have won just six playoff games period in the last 17 years and have finished last in the Atlantic Division in each of the last four seasons. But they are barely halfway to matching the seven-year playoff drought the team endured from 1994 through 2001.
The Islanders ranked last in the NHL in attendance in 2010-11 at an average of 11,059 per game at the 16,250-seat Coliseum. It was the third time in the last four years the Islanders finished last in attendance and this year’s figures represented a decrease of more than 2,500 from 2008-09, the last time the Islanders finished last in attendance.
The most popular potential destination for the Islanders, should they move, is Kansas City, which built the Sprint Center in 2007 in hopes an NBA or NHL team would relocate there. Other possibilities include Seattle as well as two cities the NHL has deserted in the last 15 years — Quebec and Hartford.