Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Skating on Thin Ice

Newsday is reporting that Islanders owner Charles Wang may have some interest in relocating his ice hockey team to-Willets Point: "Less than two days after Charles Wang said he is ready to explore all his options, the executive vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce said Wang's search should begin in his borough."

So, let's get this straight. Someone from the Queens Chamber is looking to auction off property that neither he nor the city has title to, so that a moribund hockey franchise can come to the city? Here's what one Jack Friedman has to say: "Option number 1 should be Queens," Jack Friedman said. "We are ready for him." Friedman believes a potential new home for the Islanders would fit perfectly as a centerpiece in the city's plans for the Willets Point area. The project is still in the early stages; Friedman said ground-breaking probably won't take place for another four or five years."

But, as Tonto once is reported to have said to the Lone Ranger: What do you mean, "we," paleface." Maybe Friedman is ready to shove legal land owners off their land before all of the outstanding issues facing this development are addressed, but Charles Wang would be wise to proceed with extreme caution.

So should EDC, whose salivating needs to be tempered. As the NY Daily News has reported: "Sources said the city Economic Development Corp. - now preparing a request for proposals to transform the 62-acre tract near Citi Field - is intrigued by rumors the Isles may relocate amid stalled plans to revamp Nassau Coliseum."

Where would we be without EDC intrigue? But has anyone examined the economic benefits of throwing out productive businesses from Willets Point in exchange for a hockey team? Sports teams are generally poor generators of economic development, and in Brooklyn-where nothing quite like the economic activity characteristic of WP exists-a stand alone basketball team couldn't get support for a substantial commitment of public dollars.

Can you imagine spending around $700 million for the right to host the Islanders? Maybe Jack Friedman should start passing the plate so that the city can justify this bit of economic insanity.

In our view, however, all of this is premature extrapolation-and presupposes that the hurdles still remaining are insignificant barriers. Mr. Wang has plenty of time to decide where to place his hockey team-should he decide to leave the lovely Nassau Coliseum. Planning for Willets Point as a new home is fraught with uncertainty-and the time line isn't the only unknown factor that could come back to haunt this courtship; a clear example of looking for love in all the wrong places.