The votes are in — 62 percent of them, anyway, as of around midnight — and it looks like the New York Islanders‘ $400 million arena plan has gone down to a decisive defeat. With about 15% of registered Nassau County voters turning out at the polls, 58% of those voting opposed the plan to hike property taxes by as much as 4% to pay for the new building.
What happens now is anyone’s guess. Islanders owner Charles Wang has said he’d move the team if the arena vote failed, but owners have said that before (cf. Carl Pohlad after the Twins referendum lost in 1996), and his list of relocation options isn’t all that great. Kansas City isn’t going to offer a sweetheart lease to a sports team and neither is Quebec, Hamilton has that Balsillie problem, which leaves … Houston? It’s tough to see abandoning the nation’s largest market, with a proven hockey fan base, for a Sunbelt city that hasn’t had a major-league hockey team in 33 years, especially after all that mess in Phoenix. There’s always that talk of a hockey arena in Queens, but that has nothing in the way of a funding plan, and would give New York buy genuine lorazepam City three arenas competing for concerts (and the metro area six arenas, at least until the Meadowlands and the Nassau Coliseum were torn down), which is a heck of a lot, even for an urban area with 20 million people.
After the vote, Wang said only: “I have to tell you I’m disappointed and to put it very bluntly, I’m heartbroken. I have to tell you it’s a very emotional day for us.” He added: “We’re committed to the Nassau Coliseum until 2015. We will honor our lease.”
Before the vote yesterday, Wang had been more defiant, proclaiming, “We don’t have a place to play anymore, because come 2015, our lease expires. … We have to have a place to play, so we’re out of options basically.” Given that the last time anybody tried that gambit was seven years ago, and everyone just laughed at them — as anyone who’s rented an apartment knows, the thing about leases is after one expires you typically get another one — Wang isn’t exactly sounding like a man with a solid Plan B. It’s going to be very interesting to see what his next move is, once he gets over his heartbreak.