On Monday, August 1st, the fate of Charles Wang’s dream to re-invigorate Long Island and Nassau County’s economy, with a massive new entertainment complex, including a brand new stadium for the New York Islanders, will be put to a vote. The vote will be to approve a $400 million loan to the project, funded by the taxpayers in New York state. This vote may have some serious implications on whether or not the Islanders will remain in the city past the 2015 season, when their lease runs out at the Nassau Coliseum.
On the other side of the North American hockey world, the Edmonton Oilers are trying to work even faster to work out a deal to build their own downtown entertainment complex, which would include a new arena to replace Rexall Place, their current home, where the team’s lease in the building expires in 2014. Owner Daryl Katz has a plan approved with his ownership group and the City of Edmonton to start building such a complex, but there is a request in with the Provincial and Federal Government to help kick in $100 million for the project. Both levels of government have said no to this project, stating that neither level would be out to help professional ice hockey and their private endeavours, even if that includes new buildings.
Both teams have provided some very good cases for economic growth in each market, revenues and jobs, but there is a certain separation of hockey and government, which keeps hockey mad areas on the edge of their seats in anxiousness.
At least on Long Island, the decision is being left up to the voting public in the area, as they get to decide whether or not the team will receive their hard-earned taxes in a loan to put this all together. Putting the decision to democracy has a level of fairness to the whole process, a fairness that cannot be denied by either side of the debate. If the people want a revitalized entertainment district in Nassau County, they can have one, at a certain cost, of course. On the flip side of the coin, Charles Wang and company will know how welcome they are to staying past the 2015 season, having only last ditch efforts and concessions to make before possibly moving the club out of town.
The Oilers have been met by a stone wall of disagreement from political party leaders, who speak for the elected officials, who were voted in by the people, thus speaking for the people. In their case, however, the Oilers are asking for the $100 million straight up, not necessarily in loan form, to which the Islanders are looking to go forward with, so not having to repay the total would certainly cause good reason for hesitation and/or denial of funds.
There is a lot to take in when considering how good of a job your government is doing when handling measures like these. There is a lot of good that can be done with a professional sports team in your area, but when it starts to affect your everyday life, does the cost get overshadowed by the benefits? Does the professional sports franchise touch your life in a way that can be measured outside of pure entertainment?
All of this should be taken into consideration, especially as a part of the voting public, be it in the United States or in Canada, how is this decision going to affect your daily life or your life one, two, ten or twenty years down the road. Will you be working in the new entertainment district? Will your family get caught in a medical emergency, to which your local sports team provides charitable support to?
Of course, my hockey loving bias wishes the best for these teams or any NHL franchise, for that matter (yes, even the Coyotes). In the days where the federal governments of each country are being highly scrutinized for the free-spending ways and their debts that will never be collected, if they are presented with proposals that will turn around and help their constituents in the long-term, it should be put forth into some sort of democratic purpose. The Islanders have done a fantastic job providing as much information to the public about what their project will do for the area, which I hope will give the team the best chance at getting a positive result in Monday’s vote.