NEW YORK — Now hockey is coming to Brooklyn.
The NHL’s New York Islanders have agreed to move to the Barclays Center starting with the 2015-16 season.
“Hello Brooklyn!” Islanders owner Charles Wang said as he made the announcement at a news conference Wednesday. The lease agreement is for 25 years.
Officials in nearby Nassau County, N.Y., have struggled for years to come up with a plan to either renovate or build a new arena to replace the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which opened in 1972. Wang, the founder of a computer software company, presented a plan in 2003 for a privately funded multibillion-dollar development of housing, retail and a new arena on the property, but the proposal foundered amid community opposition.
Wang had long threatened to move the team from its home in Uniondale after the club’s lease expired following the 2014-15 season. He complained that the dilapidated building is unsuited for a professional sports franchise.
The Barclays deal took seven months to complete and was finished Tuesday night, according to Wang.
“Brooklyn is big time and now we have the big-league sports to prove it,” mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the Nassau Coliseum for 16 violations of workplace health and safety standards. OSHA said workers had been exposed to asbestos. The areas were not accessible to the general public. It also found inadequately lighted exit routes and other violations.
A statement from SMG, the company that manages the Coliseum for Nassau County, said it would contest the citation. It said the asbestos issues had been remediated.
As recently as April, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Brooklyn might not be a viable destination for the Islanders because it’s hard to reach for the team’s fan base in Long Island and Queens. However, the team’s announcement of a news conference at the Barclays Center trumpeted the fact that it is located “atop one of the largest transportation hubs in New York City ... accessible by 11 subway lines, the Long Island Rail Road, and 11 bus lines.”
Last year, voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum – backed by Wang – that would have allowed Nassau County to borrow $400 million to build a new hockey arena. Earlier this year, county officials announced they were seeking proposals to open the 77-acre parcel to any developer interested in proposing new ideas for the site. An announcement on those proposals was expected to be released any day.
County Executive Edward Mangano, who backed the referendum as a way of keeping the hockey team from leaving along with spurring economic development and job growth, had no immediate comment on the move.
Long Island fans seemed resigned to the move for a team that won the Stanley Cup every year from 1980 through 1983 but missed the playoffs last season.
“I wish they would stay on Long Island. I was an Islanders fan for many years and went to all the Stanley Cup wins,” said Sandy Thomas, a former season-ticket holder. He added: “But the county and the town did not want to spend any money to support them. It’s too much of a commute to go to Brooklyn to a game. I will watch it on television.”
Michael Callahan of Huntington said it was a sad day for Nassau County, but “I will probably go to Brooklyn for a game. It is easily accessible by mass transit; that is a big plus. That is also one of the shortfalls of the Coliseum; there is no close train system. That is a big plus; Brooklyn is easy to get to.”