NEW YORK — Islanders owner Jon Ledecky said the team will play at Barclays Center through the end of next season, and the “singular focus” beyond that is the construction of a new arena at Belmont Park.
“We are locked and loaded on Belmont,” Ledecky said Tuesday at a luncheon with Islanders beat writers. “We have the blinders on for Belmont. We’re not looking at other places, other things, other opportunities. We want to make Belmont a reality.”
The Islanders submitted a bid last month with several other partners, including owners of the New York Mets and Madison Square Garden, to develop a new arena at Belmont Racetrack in Nassau County. The Empire State Development Corp. announced in July a request for proposals (RFP) to develop 36 acres of vacant and underutilized parking lots at the site of the racetrack.
“We feel we have a business plan that is very viable and we want everyone in the metropolitan area to know our commitment to New York and our commitment to Belmont,” Ledecky said. “And we want the political leadership to know that as well. That’s what we’re focused on. Everything else is noise.”
The Islanders just began their third season at Barclays Center arena after playing at the Nassau Coliseum from the team’s inception in 1972 until 2015. The team’s move to the Brooklyn arena was announced as a 25-year deal and appeared to secure the Islanders’ future in New York amid talk the team could move to another city.
However, the lease has an opt-out clause with a January deadline that either side can exercise. The Islanders can choose to leave as early as after this season, while either side can terminate the deal effective at the end of the 2018-19 season.
Islanders fans have expressed displeasure with Barclays Center, home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, citing many obstructed seats and poor sightlines for hockey. It’s also farther away from the core of the team’s fan base on Long Island. There have also been issues with the quality of the ice, though the team and arena management have tried to improve that.
“Barclays is a great place and it gets better year after year,” Ledecky said. “Unfortunately, when the facility was built it was not built with hockey in mind. It’s not a facility in its current form that one could be in and have a successful place as a hockey team. That’s pretty well established at this point.”
There is no timetable for Empire State Development to make a decision. There was an RFP for the same land in 2012, but ESD scrapped all proposals a year ago.
When asked if he had a plan where the team might play beyond next season even if it wins the bidding and the new arena isn’t ready, Ledecky declined to speculate and deflected questions of a potential construction timeline to New York Arena Partners LLC, the arena partnership group.
“We’re playing at Barclays Center this year and next, and we’re not looking beyond that because our singular focus is on Belmont Park becoming a reality,” he said. “We don’t want the noise or the distraction of people saying ‘go here, go there or move here, move there.’ We’re singularly focused on Belmont and the RFP. We want to win the RFP.”
Ledecky also declined to discuss specifics of the Islanders’ bid because it is “being reviewed in a competitive context with other bidders.”
The Islanders played a preseason game back at the refurbished Coliseum, now called NYCB Live. After renovations the arena now has a capacity of about 13,000 for hockey, less than both the 16,170 it had previously and the 15,795 currently at Barclays Center.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said playing games there on a regular basis was not viable, and Ledecky said he didn’t think any plans that called for the Islanders to return to the venue were likely to be approved by the league.