The heat is on – two front-page stories in Newsday with profoundly negative quotes and positions in a three-day span (see the post below). So let’s take a step back and review some of the positives of the deal between Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang for a new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
I’d like to, however, start off with an opinion – this being a blog and all. I do not think the deal is perfect. I do believe this process was rushed, starting with the embarrassing tweets of “Great News!” from Islanders media pals followed by the awkward pep rally/press conference at the Coliseum. Then again, Wang has owned the Islanders for more than eleven years. Then again, Bill Torrey said in this space that the first conversation about the future of the Coliseum property took place in the nineteen hundred and friggin’ eighty-three. Hard to blame anyone involved for being in a rush.
As many of you may know, I worked in the Islanders organization for twenty years – the final eight for Wang. I was colleagues and am still friends with many of the people that have worked for Wang in putting together the Lighthouse Project and this deal. Most of all, I feel I have a pretty good handle on what makes Charles Wang tick and how he has become an overwhelmingly successful entrepreneur. In good times and challenging ones, I got a peak behind the curtain at how the man operates and how he treats people.
I believe the deal with Mangano will undergo some changes by the time this referendum/NIFA/Legislature supermajority process is completed – likely not for several months. I believe the deal, which I estimate to be 80% done (to Mike Picker’s 99%), still has plenty enough in it to earn the YES vote from anyone who cares about the New York Islanders, Coliseum events, the development of the property and the future of Long Island.
But most of all, I don’t believe for a second that Wang woke up a few months ago, called a meeting, rubbed his hands together and in the voice of a summer movie supervillain and said…
“What I really want to do is screw over as many people as I can. I want Nassau to be even poorer! I want to drain every resident of every penny I can get my hands on! If ten years from now, people are mocking me because I cut myself the deal of the century with Mangano, good! I want my legacy to be not about founding businesses, donating tens of millions of dollars to charity and saving the Islanders. I want to be known as the guy who ripped my fellow Long Islanders off, all so I could build an arena.”
If you believe the undercurrent and sometimes blatant hate for this arena deal, what opponents are really saying is that Wang and his staff are out to screw over the county.
When you buy a professional sports team, your legacy is at stake. After all these years, do you really think Wang followed up his I’ll-pay-for-everything Lighthouse Project with this deal without any concern for the future of Nassau and its residents?
It’s unfortunate to even have to dignify the contempt, but it’s there. So to be clear, I think Wang and his top advisors tried to come up with the best deal so the Islanders and Nassau County can thrive. It’s not perfect, will probably be tweaked and – as I’ve been telling friends for years, the Islanders may not get their new arena until the trucks are packed up and the politicians finally get the gravity of the situation and come together to strike an 11th-hour deal.
Sad, but it could still very well come to that.
Some of the Benefits, as Far as I Can Tell
(Feel free to add in a BS ratio of 25% in either direction. The numbers still hold up well)
- Nassau will receive $14 million in guaranteed lease payments from the Islanders annually. The county would also receive $4.9 million annually in taxes.
- The Islanders will stay in Nassau until at least 2045.
- A new, state-of-the-art arena will guarantee the continuation of family, trade shows and concerts. And, if anything, the quality of performers booking the new NVMC should only improve.
- If the Coliseum was to be closed – and it would if the Islanders left as the primary tenant – the county would lose close to $104 million in annual earnings, along with approximately 2,600 jobs.
- The new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will create many new jobs. (I agree that 3,000 completely new jobs sounds a bit imaginative, but even if it’s half that it’s a noble cause).
- The construction of the new arena would add 1,500 construction jobs.
- The new arena would generate over $9 million in tax revenue in its first year of operation
Good stuff. The problem, of course, is that the project is getting an ass-kicking by NIFA, the democrats in the Nassau legislature, at least one key Republican and countless faceless opponents.
Wang and the Islanders, and nobody else – not Mangano, nor his overwhelmed and underwhelming staff – have two weeks to get their messages out clearly and in grand fashion. Two weeks.
Having the referendum on Aug. 1 remains a stroke of genius. Seeing what we see now from the opposition, can you imagine how badly this vote would be defeated if it was held on Election Day?
As it stands now, the deal has enough proponents, Islanders fanatics and union laborers behind it to win on Aug. 1. But Wang and the Islanders only truly win the referendum if they win it big. Whether they can is very much in question right now. Like their young roster in October, let’s see what Islanders management is really made of right now.