Every franchise in every sport has at least one of those days. A day that every fan remembers, a day that changes the course of the team’s history. For some it may be the day a team traded away a bright star, for others it could be a day their team traded for that missing piece that helped lead their team to greatness. For others, like the New York Islanders, one of those days is August 1st, 2011 – the day that Nassau County effectively said good-bye, and sealed the fate of the Islander’s future on Long Island.
Opened in 1972, the inaugural season for the New York Islanders, the Coliseum has never undergone any renovations. It is the second oldest arena in the NHL, behind Madison Square Garden which is in the final stages of it’s own nearly $1 billion renovation. Everyone, even Islander fans, agree that despite the history and nostalgia behind Fort Neverlose, the Coliseum is aging and in a serious state of disrepair. In 2004, nearly 10 years ago, the first comprehensive plan to renovate the Coliseum and surrounding area was released. The Lighthouse project, as it was called, included plans for a brand new, state of the art arena for the Islanders as well as residential and commercial property surrounding the arena to help create a community and business district to support the arena. Charles Wang faced resistance with this plan, and so in 2007 a revised plan was released that was a scaled-back version of the original plan. Nassau County was slow to make any sort of decision on this plan, and the mid-2009 start date for the project came and went. In 2011 it was announced that the plan would be voted on as a referendum by Nassau County residents. The New York Islanders and many members of the community put together a strong campaign featuring TV ads and a Facebook page, encouraging people to “Vote Yes on 8.1.11”. As evening fell on August 1st, 2011 and the polls began to close, hope started to fade. On August 2nd, 2011 it was reported that the referendum had failed 57% to 43%, and just like that it was clear that Long Island could no longer be the home of the New York Islanders.
Flash forward to October 24, 2012 and the Islanders have a new home at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. While still technically part of Long Island, although many will deny this either because the don’t want to be associated or geography is not their forte, it’s hardly the outcome that many were hoping for. The Barclays Center will now be the smallest arena in the NHL, and will not have any seating behind one net. It’s a beautiful arena, but it’s no secret that it was not built for hockey. The team and all the history associated with Uniondale will be gone, pushed out of Nassau County by residents and politicians. As Daniel Friedman of WFAN said on Twitter this morning, “I have no doubt that, ten years from now, “yes” and “no” voters alike will come to view that decision as “The Mistake of ’11.” #Coliseum“.