Yesterday, Nassau County voters rejected a plan to borrow $400 million for a new arena for the Islanders and a new minor-league ballpark. In the weeks leading up to the vote, the Islanders had indicated that should the proposal not pass, the team's future on Long Island would be in doubt. (From an e-mail the team sent out to fans, answering questions about the vote: "At the same time, voters will decide the fate of the Islanders who face the potential of having to leave Nassau County in 2015 when their lease expires should a new sports arena not be built.") Also: Isles owner Charles Wang had said before the vote that he has no Plan B if the measure didn't pass. Yesterday's vote — about 57 percent of voters were against it — doesn't necessarily mean the end of the Islanders on Long Island. But it sure doesn't help.
For what it's worth, Edward P. Mangano, the Nassau County executive and a supporter of the plan, was already looking forward. Said Mangano: "Tonight is not an ending but a beginning. We will find a new path that brings people together — a path that solves the problems and blockades for the redevelopment of this property." Of course, doing so while also keeping the Islanders won't be so easy. So what happens next?
Technically, the county could still move ahead with borrowing. From yesterday's Newsday Q&A about the vote:
Even if the referendum fails, Nassau County still could move ahead with the borrowing, because the county legislature ultimately has the power to make the authorization, county spokesman Brian Nevin said. The borrowing would still need a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
But before the vote, Mangano said that he was prepared to file a request for proposals for the 77-acre site. The request wouldn't require the winner to maintain the current arena — remember, though, that the Islanders still have a lease until 2015 — or build a new one. It would be open to anyone with "a sustainable vision for the property."
Meanwhile, Chris Botta of Islanders Point Blank presents some options for Wang, including the one Islanders fans have dreaded:
Mangano and Wang could still try to work out a different deal with legislature and see if NIFA will approve it.
Or perhaps finally, for the first time since he bought the team eleven years ago, Wang will publicly dance with other municipalities.
Greg Wyshynski, who reminds us that Wang could still fund a new arena himself, or try and sell the team to someone who will keep it on Long Island, also notes that, for what it's worth, when Gary Bettman (who was born in Queens and cheered for the Islanders) is "motivated to keep a team in a city, then that team doesn't leave Glendale ... er, Uniondale." (That's a reference, for those who don't follow hockey, to the fact that the Phoenix Coyotes still exist.)
Look, like we said back during the Lighthouse Project days, as Rangers fans, we don't want to see a rival team relocated halfway across the country — or maybe even out of the country entirely. (Neither, by the way, do the Rangers or Devils organizations.) But we say that, of course, as people with an interest in this as hockey fans — and not as people whose taxes would have gone up as a result of the measure. And so Islanders fans (and anyone who wants to see them stay) can still hold out hope that Wang figures out a way to keep the team here, or that some deep-pocketed hero will ride on down the Meadowbrook Parkway on his white horse and save the day.
It's terrible for fans of any team to fear that their franchise might up and move, but it's never looked more likely to happen for the Islanders. (Also: The Isles still have four years left on their lease, which Wang has said he intends to fulfill. So Islanders fans might wind up seeing their franchise die a slow, particularly painful death.) Yesterday was a day Islanders fans have had circled on their calendars for months, but it could prove to be one of the darkest days in the history of the franchise.