L.I. vote on Islanders bad news for city

Published on September 9, 2011 by

Voters in Nassau County may have dealt a serious blow to both Park City professional sports franchises, the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.

The Long Island residents scuttled a proposed $400 million bond offering to finance a new home for the New York Islanders, a plan championed by the Islanders organization and team owner Charles Wang. In a special non-binding referendum election held in early August, voters rejected the package by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin. The team has played its home games at the Nassau County Coliseum since its inception.

In a statement issued following the vote tally Wang said, “I’m heartbroken that this was not passed.  We’re disappointed that the referendum pertaining to the arena was not voted by the people of Nassau County as being a move in the right direction for growth.  I feel that the sound bites ruled the day and not the facts.  Right now, it’s an emotional time and we’re not going to make any comments on any specific next steps.”

He continued, “We’re committed to the Nassau Coliseum until the year 2015 and like we’ve said all along, we will honor our lease.”

The New York Islanders are the owners of the Sound Tigers, the NHL squads’ top minor league affiliate. Although New York still has four more years before its lease expires at the Nassau Coliseum, there have been rumblings that Wang would move is team out of the metropolitan area, if he could not secure a new facility. 

Among some of the cities that have been mentioned as destination for the club are Hartford, Kansas City and Quebec City. There is also the possibility that the Islanders could remain nearby by relocating to either Brooklyn or Queens.

A key reason for the successful partnership between the Islanders and the Sound Tigers is close proximity between the two clubs, essentially a ferry ride across Long Island Sound. If the NHL team relocates to Kansas City, for example, officials of the organization may want their farm team close by, meaning the Sound Tigers would exit Bridgeport.

Further complicating the matter is that earlier this summer, the Islanders assumed control of day-to-day operations of Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena, home of the Sound Tigers. At a press conference announcing that action, Wang explained that he wanted to increase the amount of dates at the venue, from approximately 75 to approximately 150.

Currently, the main tenants at facility are the hockey team and Fairfield University Men’s and Women’s basketball.

The proposed sports complex which was shot down by the Nassau County voters, also included a proposed minor league baseball stadium. And that’s where the Bluefish come in.

The Atlantic League had been awarded the franchise to play in the new ballpark, with Long Island businessman Frank Boulton at the helm. Boulton is also league president and owner of the Bridgeport Bluefish, among other clubs.

After early smashing success at the turnstiles, Bridgeport has struggled at the gate for several years. Who is to say that after this latest setback, Boulton doesn’t move the Bluefish to a stronger market? It’s happened before in this league. Among cities that have seen their team either fold up shot or switch leagues are Atlantic City, Newark, Nashua, N.H., Lehigh Valley, Pa., Aberdeen, Md. And Newburgh, N.Y. Bridgeport is also located farther north than any other team in the league.

Of course this is speculation.

Anything could happen between now and 2015 when the Islanders vacate the Coliseum, including Wang selling the team to local ownership or another arena proposal being floated. And Boulton has steadfastly maintained that the Bluefish aren’t going anywhere.

But there is little question that a vote in Nassau County has reverberated across the Sound directly to the Park City.