Queens Makes Play for Islanders, New Arena

Deadline for "certainty" on Long Island has passed

Charles Wang, the owner of the Islanders, said that he would begin exploring other homes if he did not have "certainty" regarding a new arena on Long Island by the start of the team's season.

Well, the Islanders began play on Saturday night (don't feel bad for not noticing) and the town of Hempstead has made no assurances about the arena or overall Lighthouse development project, so a-shopping he shall go. 

The first place to officially throw its hat into the ring is Queens. The executive vice president of the borough's Chamber of Commerce is pitching Willets Point, right next to Citi Field, as the perfect location for the Islanders. It makes a certain sense. There's plenty of public transportation to both Manhattan and Long Island, it would create more year-round traffic to the area which might help spur development beyond Quonset hut auto body shops and it would keep the Islanders close enough to their ancestral home for their name to make as much sense as placing New York in front of Jets or Giants. 

The problem is that there's no place for them to play. Queens has big plans to develop the area. They already plan to use eminent domain and vaguely Stalinist-sounding business relocation programs to clear the land so that they can build a variety of residential, commercial and public spaces. The arena is just gilding the lily. If that sounds familiar, it's probably because of the years-long Atlantic Yards boondoggle in Brooklyn which, for all its bold plans, will either fail or wind up using government intervention to hand choice real estate to a Russian oligarch at below market value.

There are already community groups lining up against the Willets Point project, but we'll just focus on the arena part of the equation since the plan is in motion with or without the Islanders playing a role. The city does not need another arena to play host to a sports team on 40-odd dates a year. Between Madison Square Garden, the two baseball stadiums, the arena and stadium at the Meadowlands, the Prudential Arena in Newark and the proposed Brooklyn arena, there's already too much competition for the non-sporting events that can actually keep these arenas from doing more than sucking down municipal money and staying empty. And that's before taking into account the zillions of other places for concerts, special events and the like in the metropolitan area.

Once you throw in the fact that all but MSG and the arena at the Meadowlands are in their infancy, it becomes clear that there's neither a need nor a justification for another new building. If the Islanders want to play within the five boroughs, let them share space with the Nets in Brooklyn because if we're going to get a building we don't need we might as well keep it full for as much of the year as possible.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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