Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bloomberg open to Islanders coming to Queens

Originally published: May 12, 2010 8:51 PM
Updated: May 12, 2010 10:12 PM

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated Wednesday that he was open to the idea of the New York Islanders heading to Queens.

"I'd love to have more teams move here," he said at a news conference. "That'd be great."

Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon told Newsday Tuesday he had spoken with Charles Wang, who owns the Islanders, about building an arena for the team near Citi Field. Wilpon also said it remains a possibility he could buy the team.

Wednesday, the Mets confirmed their interest in building an arena that could house the Islanders or a Major League Soccer team. Wilpon was not available for comment.

Asked at a news conference about the possibility of the Islanders moving to Queens, Bloomberg, who did not mention Wang by name, said, "I don't know whether it's just the owner or the team negotiating, using us as a negotiating ploy out on Long Island." The mayor said he hadn't yet talked to the Mets' owners.

Wang did not respond to calls for comment Wednesday.

Despite Wilpon's interest in the Islanders, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said she's still focused on keeping the team in Nassau County by creating a smaller-scale zone for the Lighthouse Project, the $3.8 billion mixed-use development proposed by Wang and partner Scott Rechler.

Murray said she hopes to have that zone plan completed by June.

"I'm aiming for sooner rather than later," she said. "I'm not looking to drag this thing out, that's for sure."

Murray said she hasn't seen plans for the zone yet, but expects to "very, very shortly."

The Islanders aren't Wilpon's only option if he were to build a new arena near Citi Field. Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday he is in preliminary discussions with Wilpon to bring soccer to the area. Said Garber: "Queens is a hotbed of soccer interest."

And the Islanders may not be a perfect match for Wilpon, either. The Mets-owned SNY network wouldn't be able to televise Islander games, because the Islanders' contract with MSG lasts through 2031.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

If Wilpon does build a new hockey arena and the Islanders move to Queens, it may mean the end to an arena in Nassau County, experts said. Some pointed to other ideas, from a convention center to a small business incubator for that site. Murray said an arena will be part of the recommended zone.

The potential venture between Wang and Wilpon in Queens comes more than four years after the two vied for the right to develop 77 acres around Nassau Coliseum. Their proposals were similar, although Wilpon was the first to suggest a minor league baseball stadium, which Wang later added.

Wang and Rechler won the bid. "The one thing we didn't have was control of the Islanders," Wilpon said at the time about losing the bid.

Now, with the land still undeveloped, some sources worry that if Wang and Wilpon worked in Queens together, the best possibilities for the Coliseum and its surrounding space would go with them.

"It's like the creativity leaves Long Island and goes to Queens," said Vision Long Island executive director Eric Alexander. "I hope that's not the epitaph."

With Jim Baumbach and Neil Best