October 2, 2009 / 4:37 AM / 10 years ago

NY Islanders ink new arena deal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Islanders hockey team and Nassau County on Thursday said they had a deal to modernize the arena where the team plays as part of $3.8 billion project that includes a hotel, offices and a convention center.

“Unlike almost every sports arena deal across the country, the county is not paying any taxpayer money to build the new facility,” Democratic County Executive Tom Suozzi said in statement.

The $320 million overhaul of Nassau County’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum will be privately financed; the team will pay $1.5 million a year in rent, plus annual hikes for inflation.

Team Owner Charles Wang had threatened to move the team if no deal was reached by October 3, the start of the Islanders’ playing season.

The accord locks the team into staying in Nassau County, which lies just east of New York City, until July 31, 2030.

Wang partnered with the Lighthouse Development Group on the complex, which includes a new athletic center.

Nassau County owns the arena but the Town of Hempstead would have to rezone the land for the new complex, which includes 1 million square feet of offices and 2,300 condominiums, lofts and townhouses, a Lighthouse spokeswoman said.

Twenty percent of those homes would be set aside for low-income residents. The developers will spend about $55 million to improve roads, link the arena to the local train station and ferry people around the complex in a trolley.

About 75,000 construction workers will be hired over the eight to 10 years it will take to build the project, which is expected to create about 19,000 permanent jobs.

The Islanders owner has tried to reach an arena deal for eight years, and responding to complaints from local residents about earlier plans, pared the height of the tallest tower planned to about 35 stories from 60 stories.

At 450 feet, the new tower would be Long Island’s tallest building, the Lighthouse spokeswoman said. Currently, Long Island’s tallest structure is a 385-foot smokestack.

The National Hockey League team last week played an exhibition game against the Los Angeles Kings in Kansas City; some analysts and fans viewed that game as a bid by Wang to pressure Nassau County into approving the arena plan.

Many analysts consider Nassau Coliseum the worst in the NHL and the team suffers from weak attendance.

Analysts and sports bankers have speculated that the NHL needs to eliminate several teams, especially in the struggling nontraditional southeast markets. The Phoenix Coyotes team filed for bankruptcy in May.

But NHL officials have denied a contraction will take place and said the sport is healthy financially, experiencing record overall revenue and attendance last season.

Reporting by Joan Gralla in New York and Ben Klayman in Chicago; Editing by Kenneth Barry

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