Islanders eye Willets Point for new arena: Report

Islanders eye Willets Point for new arena: Report
Photo by Madina Toure
By Gina Martinez

If the Islanders have their way, they’ll soon be calling Willets Point home. This is all according to Bloomberg News, which did not name the source, but reported the New York Islanders’ owners have been in talks for months with New York Mets owners to build an arena adjacent to Citifield in Flushing.

“Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’ owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements,” Bloomberg quoted the source, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private, as saying.

Willets Point would be an ideal move considering a large majority of the fan base is from Long Island and the arena would be closer to Queens. This is not the first time Willets Point has been considered. Back in 2010 there were similar conversations among owners, but nothing came from it.

Islanders officials would neither confirm nor deny plans to move, saying “the Islanders do not comment on rumor or speculation.” Requests for comments from the Mets were not returned.

Willets Point is currently home to autoshops, unpaved roads and scrap yards. In 2013 a $3 billion redevelopment plan was approved by the city to transform it into a commercial, retail and residential area. The plan has been the center of controversy because the land to be redeveloped includes 47 acres of parkland which cannot be sold or leased without authorization from state Legislature. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), along with civic groups, business owners and residents, filed a lawsuit challenging the transfer of the land, which an appellate court has upheld. The mega-project has been halted.

There has been no indication as to where exactly the arena would be built within Willets Point.

The Islanders currently play in Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn. Fans have complained about the arena, saying the views are obstructed and that getting to the stadium and parking is an issue. Players on the team are also unhappy. Throughout the last season one of the main complaints has been the ice conditions, which league technicians have tried to fix. The arena was originally designed to house the Brooklyn Nets, a basketball team.

The Islanders have spent just one year in the Brooklyn arena since their move from Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., but it has been less than ideal. According to the National Hockey League, Islander game attendance is 13,626 per home game, the third lowest in the NHL. The arena itself only holds 15,700 people, which is well below the league’s standard by a few thousand.

Barclays Center Chief Executive Officer Brett Yormark spoke about the obstructed views to Sports Illustrated back in February, telling fans to work around the bad seats.

“Our seating capacity is over 15,700,” he said. “Within that capacity there’s a lot of great seats. Do we have some obstructed seats? Yes, we do. Are fans aware of those obstructed seats before they purchase them? Yes, they are. There’s really nothing we’re going to do from a capital improvement standpoint. You can watch the game on your mobile device. The game is on the scoreboard. There are many ways to view the game if you’re in one of those obstructed seats. We aren’t going to be able to change the seats in the building. That is what it is. But there are certainly other ways we can enhance the experience.”

Islanders partner, Jon Ledecky, spoke to journalist in July and acknowledged issues with the Barclay Stadium

“We have to make Barclays Center feel more like the Islanders’ home,” he said. “It’s a wonderful facility, but it is generic. So we’re working with Barclays.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.