Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mr. Wang, Close the Deal - A Special Comment

(Blogger's Note: As with all opinion pieces, this is better if more people comment)

Now, as promised, a Special Comment about Charles Wang, owner of the New York Islanders and principal visionary behind the Lighthouse Project. Whether the Town of Hempstead acknowledges the legitimacy of it or not, Mr. Wang's October 3 deadline for "certainty" - meaning approval of re-zoning - is approaching rapidly. The horizon is fast approaching, with free agency for the New York Islanders awaiting on the other side.

Not surprisingly, this ticking clock is being met with a mixture of anxiety, fear, and outright anger from the Islanders' fan base, a group that has, through fraudulent owners, falling scoreboards, and silly trade after silly trade, already experienced enough heartache to last a thousand lifetimes. An upcoming game in Kansas City - which, by no accident, is being played the same day as the Lighthouse Project re-zoning hearing, serves to remind the frozen faithful that glittering new homes await across this continent if the local government is not willing to protect its asset.

Stanly Cup in Hockey Hall of FameImage via Wikipedia

Mr. Wang, whether we like it or not, has earned the right to explore all the options for a team that is, at the end of the day, his. We know his losses have been severe, and I know that, had I been in his shoes, I would have lost patience long before this. It is clear that, with a re-zoning hearing occurring on September 22 and a Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) not near completion due to the antics of Frederick P. Clark Associates, the October 3 hearing will pass without a firm commitment. The Lighthouse process will not suddenly stop as if encased in carbonite; it will endure, and, hopefully, to a happy end. However, representatives from other cities dying to get their shot (or a second shot, in some cases) at NHL hockey will be at the ready to woo a four-time Stanley Cup champion team, and Mr. Wang should hear them out like any potential free agent would. It is not pleasant, but from a business perspective this may be necessary.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that this coming free agency period means the Lighthouse Project is dead or dying. In fact, we are the closest we have ever been to making our Island Dream a reality, even though Mr. Wang's self-imposed deadline will soon come and pass.

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 26:  (L-R) President of ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

However, something about this does not feel right. The Lighthouse Project is a visionary proposal whose very existence has already altered the course of Long Island history, and the eventual decision rendered by the Town of Hempstead will do no less than shape the future of one of the first suburban communities in human history for generations to come, but we cannot forget that its initial existence was to ensure the survival of the New York Islanders, an anachronism of a team whose past success is perhaps the only reason the team has not yet moved to a major city with a glittering new arena and a sweetheart lease deal. The Lighthouse Project will all but certainly assure the New York Islanders make a permanent home on Long Island, and we cannot lose that in light of the myriad other benefits this proposal will reap for the community.

The Lighthouse Project will almost certainly pass, albeit after Mr. Wang's deadline. I look forward to the day I can meet all of you at a game, and I cannot wait to bring my future children to an Islanders game and tell them that we are there not only because of Charles Wang, but because of what we did in 2009. That may be the real story of the Lighthouse Project, one my friend B.D. Gallof's unfortunately-named contact "Ass-to-Mouth" even acknowledged, saying the Lighthouse Project is near the finish line thanks to us. The bloggers like Chris Botta, Doug Davidson, and Dee Karl, who had the courage to stand up to power and break through the nonsense. The citizens who inundated the Town of Hempstead with phone calls and letters. Joe Conte, whose courageous speaking out at Kate Murray's kickoff rally contributed to a chain of events culminating in the ouster of Joseph Mondello from his chairmanship of the State Republican Party. These people all stood up and fought for Charles Wang's vision because they believe that Long Island's best days can be ahead of it, and their efforts must be recognized.

In addition to these brave souls, I must also mention the reluctant ones. These fans and citizens have fallen on the crutch of cynicism, believing that the Lighthouse Project is a ruse that is meant, in actuality, to bolster nothing but Charles Wang's bank account. These people point to many examples, some borne out of not knowing the facts, such as those who wonder why Mr. Wang does not simply renovate the Coliseum, but others point to the actual terms of the agreement that Mr. Wang has currently proposed. As of now, Charles Wang, Scott Rechler, and the Lighthouse Development Group are seeking a 99-year lease on the Lighthouse site, virtually a sale by Nassau County, who will retain ownership of the land, but they are only proposing to extend the New York Islanders' lease through 2025. To many fans, this is tantamount to a head-fake, and even Joe Ra, the Hempstead Town Attorney, expressed his displeasure at this, fan-to-fan.

UNIONDALE, NY - AUGUST 04: New York Islanders ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Charles Wang now finds himself in an interesting position. His dream is nearing the finish line, thanks in no small part to the effort of wonderful and engaged citizens like you. However, there are still hurdles to climb, as we saw with the Town of Hempstead's sudden decision to communicate requirements before it would feel comfortable approving re-zoning and clearing a path for the Lighthouse. At the same time, some people who want to support the Lighthouse cannot bring themselves to do it out of a deep-seated fear that this, like so many other events for those who have followed this hockey team, will end in heartbreak.

I believe Mr. Wang can kill two birds with one stone by making a simple announcement. On September 22, he should stand in front of the Hempstead Town Board, elected officials, media, and citizens, and make this announcement:
I promised to seek other options for the New York Islanders if October 3 passed without receiving certainty on the Lighthouse Project, and it now appears this date will pass without action. I am disappointed in this, and I must fulfill my obligation to entertain other suitors for my team. However, I want to prove my commitment to Long Island, my lifelong home. If I receive approval on re-zoning, I will negotiate with Nassau County to extend the Islanders' lease in a reborn Nassau Coliseum for 25 years past the current end-date, through 2040.
This action would serve numerous positive goals for the Lighthouse cause. It would eliminate a Town of Hempstead talking point about not putting Islanders fans first, it would convince the lingering doubters of his sincerity, and, finally, it would prove the Lighthouse is truly Mr. Wang's priority for his team, his community, and his legacy.

While correct in the abstract, it would also represent a business sacrifice. Such a long-term deal, especially when the Islanders are currently not a money-making franchise, can be very risky. As Islander505 pointed out, this could hurt some flexibility in the longer term. However, stewardship of the land should help to ease this burden, and, in this case, it is a sacrifice that I believe must be made. 30-year leases, which this would effectively be, are common in new buildings, and you must treat the renovated Coliseum as if it were a new arena.

This may not be Mr. Wang's chosen action, but, regardless, I believe his words and actions must prove, beyond a lingering doubt, that he will do right by those of us who have fought for his dream, and his motives lie in making things work right here, on Long Island. This process has come too far, and too many people have sacrificed too much, for this to be derailed now.

Mr. Wang, we have stood behind you and helped in your fight to make the Lighthouse Project a reality. Now, you hold a trump card in your hands. You can eliminate all lingering doubts, and you can convince the reluctant among us that this truly is for Long Islanders and the Islanders. Please, sir, understand that duty and that responsibility, and strike the decisive blow for the Lighthouse Project.

As the great Edward R. Murrow would say, goodnight, and good luck.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. Do you really think the guy who still sees DP's contract on his ceiling before he falls asleep every night is gonna sign a 25 year extension on the Coliseum?
    Even if he gets everything he wants in the LH?

    Nick....luv ya buddy.....but...
    I'll buy you a case of your favorite ale/beer/piss water if Wang EVER signs anything longer than a 10 year contract on Islander tenancy anywhere in America or Canada or China.

    Long term contracts beyond that hurt the marketability and future selling price of the franchise.

    Fact this point....he doesn't have to extend any leases to still get what he wants.
    Which is either the LH as he envisions, or the eventual removal (soon) of a cancer on his financial empire.

    The declaration by the TOH that they are JUST NOW "now looking out for Islander fans" with this request is a sham and Wang knows it.

    Just my opinion.....from two time zones away.

  2. Nick... is there any way we could get in touch with Wang and make this suggestion to him? He is a very reasonable guy and i feel that this would be something he would be interested in! i don't know if he reads this blog or not... but this is deff something he needs to read!

  3. Mr. Wang if you do read this blog, I beg you sir as a young man who moved off long island a year ago don't move the islanders off long island. In the many years that have been dragged out in awaiting a decision on the lighthouse project your vision has never been this close to becoming a reality. I know you have lost more money then I and many others will never make in more then one lifetime, and I am sure you are drained in more then one way because of the lighthouse project. But on september 22nd just tell the board from the heart what your intentions have always been about. And that was keeping the team where they belong, on LI. Keep fighting Mr. Wang. To throw in the towel now would let everything you have done and your supporters including myself around long island and around the country have done be in vain. Let's get this thing done, and have shovels in the ground come next summer. Because the light from the lighthouse will be my guide back home to where I always belonged. And that is long island sir.

  4. I seriously don't think the length of the lease will really matter to Murray, or Mr. Wang. He'd sign a longer lease for sure. But the other stipulations may be the ones that he finds less than palatable. The Town is looking to restrict quite a few things that the tenant should have RIGHTS to do!

  5. The fans definitely helped Wang and the Lighthouse win the PR battle over the last few months as far as keeping the Town's antics in check. It should be noted that if this thing does get approved, however, after the party is over, the heat will be shifted to Mr. Wang to get things done in terms of the Coliseum and the team first. Many who have been in Mr. Wang's corner throughout this process will want to see results not only in terms of construction beginning with the Coliseum but an increase in payroll for the club. Not five years from now but next season. We have seen Mr. Wang spend money and we have seen him cut back his spending. The fans have been willing to concede the economic logic in this, but always with the goal of shovels in the ground symbolizing the end of frugal times for the club. With that in mind, I'm not minding some of the things the Town recently asked for in terms of commitments to the club and geography. That's what this is about, a strong community, a viable team. I'm not sure about everything the Town is asking for and why they do things the way they do, but something can be said for getting things in writing. Ask Neil Smith.

    Paul in Canada

  6. The fans have been willing to concede the economic logic in this, but always with the goal of shovels in the ground symbolizing the end of frugal times for the club.<-

    I have to agree with this. If they get full approval for the lighthouse, there should be NO EXCUSES in the future during free agency. The Isles should and MUST be major players in every top free agent chase going forward.

    No more BS.

    -Big Van Vader

  7. Good discussion here, guys.

    Dee - I understand your perspective. I disagree with the tactics, and I think it's grandstanding so Kate can make it look like she affected an outcome she actually has nothing to do with. However, most of those "demands" aren't all that unreasonable. What in particular about it bothers you? (Just want to get a conversation going) The lease issue has been raised, to me, by more than 1 person within the Town of Hempstead. They don't understand why the Lighthouse would seek a 99-year lease on the land and agree to only a 10-year extension for the Islanders. Even as someone 100% behind the project, I had no answer for that.

    Paul/Big van Vader - thanks for your contributions. I agree that the Islanders cannot be lost in this whole equation, despite the economic reality and the clear benefits to the community from the Lighthouse. Do you think my suggestion would, in fact, help tilt public opinion from those Islanders fans who still suspect Mr. Wang's motives?

  8. Nick, part of the appeal of the Islanders to me has always been the "grass roots" feel of where they are located. The same holds true today with the way information is communicated between the team, fans and media. I don't read the Wall St. Journal or New York Times to find out what's going on because I certainly won't find anything there. The "news", hockey or Lighthouse related, still comes mostly from a handful of independents like yourself. One gets bits and pieces of information here and there and makes an educated guess regarding the motives of the principals involved in the Lighthouse project. Again, you won't find a couple of pages of "professional" opinion on the topic in a newspaper. One of these independent tidbits of news has Mr. Wang portrayed as a bully who does not make concessions. Is this the real Charles Wang? Is the truth somewhere in the middle? Probably. To answer your question then, yes, I think if Mr. Wang is willing to make some concessions that cement the Islanders in Uniondale for years to come then I think it would go a long way toward getting a yes from the Town on the project. Mr. Wang has to be "tough but fair" here. There has to be some give and take and I think some of the things the Town asked for might be not be so inappropriate. We do have a tendency to knee-jerk against anything the Town does but that has been their own doing. Also, I'm not sure what provisions the County's lease would include but maybe we'll find out soon. I agree with you that it seems like they are very close to having a handshake on this. I'm optimistic as long as there aren't too many more surprises. I hope that next Tuesday will turn the corner on this project.