Confirming rumors that first emerged last summer and then re-emerged in February, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Friday that the owners of the New York Islanders are definitely going to bid on state-owned land at Belmont Park racetrack, with the goal of building a new arena there:
“Yes, there is an RFP [request for proposal] for Belmont and I know they are going to participate in that,” Bettman said of the Islanders. “I believe that everyone thinks there is a terrific opportunity there, if not at Willets Point, to create a more hockey friendly environment for the Islanders, which is something [Islanders co-owner] Scott [Malkin] is committed to do.”
You’ll note that all this is still pretty hedgy: “Participating” in bids for the land isn’t the same as actually committing to building an arena (the New York Cosmos participated in bidding for years, and that went nowhere), and Bettman still isn’t ruling out building in Willets Point near the Mets‘ stadium, either. He did rule out playing at the renovated Nassau Coliseum as “not a long-term option,” but really all this comes down to is: The Islanders owners want a new arena of their own, and they’re going to try to get one, by gum.
Who would pay for both construction and land costs remains a mystery. Yes, Tim Leiweke’s Oak View Group and his partners at Madison Square Garden seem eager to make a splash in the arena business regardless of the cost, but that still doesn’t necessarily make the finances of yet another New York–area arena work out. I’ll close, by repeating what I said back in February:
There are way too many unknowns here to say whether this story could have legs, or is mostly just the Islanders owners trying to leverage Prokhorov into giving them a lease extension in Brooklyn that lets them keep their guaranteed-income deal and/or renovates the Barclays Center to be a less sucky place to watch hockey. I’m in an optimistic mood today, so I’ll say I hope that this is another indicator of a burgeoning arms race within Big Arena that sees billionaires throwing money at new venues without demanding big public subsidies, just because they’re trying to drive each other out of business. It couldn’t end well — anybody remember the Borders-Barnes & Noble war? — but at least the only casualties would be some private corporation’s bottom line.
The new Belmont Park request for proposals is expected to be issued soonish. If nothing else, it will be a very interesting ride.