If you read comic books in the early 80s, you may remember ads for an upcoming limited series featuring an obscure character named Rocket Raccoon.
Artwork of an angry looking raccoon in a one-piece swimsuit and thigh-high boots that shoot something was in just about every book Marvel Comics published at the time. Few had heard of Rocket before that series (he’d only had a handful of appearances, mostly in Hulk comics), and his limited run of four songs didn’t really set the world on fire when it was released in the summer of 1985. can be seen afterwards.
Fast forward about 30 years and that same obscure character is now a fundamental piece of one of the most popular episodes of an unprecedented cinematic juggernaut that generates several billion dollars a year. He is voiced by an absurdly handsome award-nominated actor. Kids dress up as Rocket for Halloween. He has toys and collectibles and stuffed animals and t-shirts and now appears monthly in comics in both team books and his own much more successful solo series.
Absolutely no one in 1985 could have seen this coming. I never thought in a million years when I saw those ads at age nine that I would see Rocket Raccoon on a big screen or that my wife and kid would even know who he is. Of all the Marvel characters brought to life through the MCU, Rocket is the one that still amazes me every time I see him.
That’s a very long-winded and geeky way of saying that sometimes things can happen that you don’t expect ever to happen. That’s what UBS Arena is.
It’s something that I and probably a lot of other people thought would never happen in our lives. In the lifetime of this blog alone, readers and commentators have gone through the very beginnings of the Lighthouse Project era, its failed arena referendum, its move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, its return to a renovated Nassau Coliseum, and then the approval and construction of UBS Arena in Belmont Park.
That’s all in just 13 years (which is an eternity in blogging years) and would be enough to drive any fan crazy. But that’s still only a fraction of the twists and turns in the story of the Islanders finally – FINALLY – having a new arena built just for them on Long Island.
I can still remember sitting on my parents’ porch in high school reading the annual report. If the islanders don’t get a new arena, they may be able to move a story that appeared to appear in Newsday for the start of each season beginning with the arrival of the 90s. Moving, or just a simple contraction, was possible given the dire situation for the NHL’s one-time crown jewel.
Yes, their house was over 20 years old at the time. But the problems weren’t just aesthetic. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was a magical place with a lot of history and a lot of memories for many people. Outside of the ice, it stifled the franchise. Few, if any, other teams in the NHL paid rent and utilities to play in their arenas. For the most part, they owned their own locations and used them to generate revenue in the form of exorbitant parking fees, concession fees, and anything else they could squeeze the paying public for.
Every owner the Islanders had in the past 30 years knew that the only way to make the team profitable was to get a new building. And all but Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky failed.
I was on that same porch when John Spano took over as owner and promised a new arena, and when he was busted for fraud and eventually tracked down in the Cayman Islands and towed back to Nassau County to face trial. Within a year, all of Spano’s grand schemes came up in a cloud of fake faxes and bizarre excuses.
Ownership went back to John Pickett, an absent check-signer, a full-time Florida resident who had been trying to unload the islanders for years. The next buyers were the New York Sports Ventures, a group of fake tough guys straight out of a Cohen Brothers movie. Main owners Steven Gluckstern and brothers Howard and Edward Milstein bought the team cheaply and expected to resell it after a new arena was built, making a nice profit. From Day 1, they tried to arm Nassau County to foot the bill for a new building, citing unsafe conditions in the Colosseum. While that may have been true (watch out for that ceiling tile!), those in power saw no reason to spend taxpayers’ money on a new Colosseum. The owners who relentlessly sell players for loose change and strip the roster to the studs may have played a part. Things got so bad that county governor Tom Gulotta infamously Gluckstern and Co. Pigs at the Trough.
Once it was clear they weren’t going to get their way, NY Sports Ventures bailed and sold it to Charles Wang, a Long Islander through China who wanted his adopted home to keep the only professional sports franchise it had. Wang was a businessman, not a hockey fan. He knew the arena was the key. But he was locked into a lease with the province that he couldn’t get out of and that crippled his team by severely limiting how much money they could generate from the Colosseum. Oh, and the lease still had 15 years to go.
After initially spending money to upgrade the roster, Wang set out to find a way to build a new Colosseum. Enter The Lighthouse Project, an elaborate, expensive venture that would transform the Nassau hub behind everything anyone could ever have imagined. Plans for an arena and homes and businesses and medical buildings were all ready. Funding was supposedly secured. All he needed was county approval to get to work.
So he waited. And we waited. And waited. And waited. All the while, Kate Murray, city supervisor in Hempstead, stood and chewed and nibbled until she finally said okay…to a significantly scaled-down version of the project. It was crushing. That led Wang to the arena referendum that brought the vote to the public. When the votes came in, they won and chose not to take out a municipal bond to fund an arena for the islanders.
That’s a very rough summary of three decades of failure and frustration among politicians, owners and several other clowns in what seemed like an endless circus. There was always another Lucy ready to take that football from Charlie Brown. And the real fools were us, the fans who kept hoping this time it would finally happen.
Even after the move to Barclays Center and with the Iron Clad 25-year lease that Wang announced at their introductory press conference, the drama never stopped. Before their first season in Brooklyn was over, rumors started flying that the Islanders and the new location weren’t happy with their relationship. Barclays Center paid the team a healthy amount to be a co-tenant, which was great for the Islanders and less so for the arena, which didn’t make as much money from hockey games as expected.
This was perhaps the most irritating twist in the story. The Islanders had found a home that, despite not being a good fit for the sport and the fan base, at least put some cash in their pockets. It seemed like we might finally be able to breathe. And yet stories of new owners Malkin and Ledecky looking across the border to Willets Point in Queens or Belmont Park were all anyone could focus on.
In hindsight, the last act had happened quickly, relative to the rest of the story. The Islanders played their first regular season game at Barclays Center in October 2015. Nearly two years later, in September 2017, the owners bid for the construction of a complex in Belmont Park that will include an arena, hotel, shopping village and other projects. would include. . In December, they were declared the winning bidder. In September 2019, after a year and a half of planning and community gatherings and looming lawsuits, a groundbreaking ceremony was held and construction began. Now, in November 2021, the building Islanders fans have been waiting for 30 years for is finally opening.
If you’re a Lighthouse Hockey fan or an Islanders fan, you already know the story. But those outside this bubble may not understand the gravity, enormity, and eternity of this timeline and what UBS Arena means.
This is not a profitable and lucrative team moving from an old arena to a new one, allowing them to capitalize on that popularity more efficiently. This is not a facelift of an old building to put a shoehorn on more seats or change the font on the walls or add aluminum foil to the roof.
This is the end of a story that has been going on for generations. For lives. This is about a team that has been on the brink of extinction for decades and is finally getting something that almost every professional sports franchise already has: a stable, viable, modern home. There will be people in the stands for the rest of this season who have never seen a version of the New York Islanders in their entire lives who weren’t looking for a solution to the arena’s problems. Imagine a lifetime of games and favorite players and screaming and screaming and joy and heartbreak, all done with the ghost of but where will they play next year? And imagine that it stops as soon as you walk into a building.
When the Islanders began their search for a new arena, the NHL had 21 teams. There are now 32 franchises. Five teams have moved. This could all have ended at any time if someone had just said, “Wrong this. Move those bastards.
Somehow, throughout this saga, the islanders are still standing about half an hour from where they started.
What was once unimaginable is now reality. And it’s not on a distant planet. It’s here. On Long Island. Just off the Cross Island Parkway.
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