New York Islanders fans won't have to attend games at decrepit Nassau Coliseum, starting in the 2015-16 National Hockey League season.
The Islanders on Wednesday entered into a 25-year lease agreement to play at the $1 billion US Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y.
"I am excited about today's announcement and look forward to a long successful future in Brooklyn," team owner Charles Wang said at a news conference.
Wang, who has threatened to move the team when its lease at Nassau Coliseum expires in 2015, has attempted for years to have a new arena built but was voted down overwhelmingly in a referendum by local residents. It would have allowed Nassau County to borrow $400 million to build a new hockey arena on the current site in Uniondale.
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 reports about the team's move.
The Barclays deal took seven months to complete and was finished Tuesday night, according to Wang, who said he had wanted to keep the team local.
"Brooklyn is big time and now we have the big-league sports to prove it," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
The Islanders reportedly will keep their name at the insistence of NHL officials.
Map: Islanders move 45 kilometres from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to Brooklyn's Barclays Center
View Larger Map
New York ranked next-to-last among 30 teams last season in average attendance at 13,191 at the 16,234-seat Nassau Coliseum. Arena officials have said Barclays Center, which is home to the National Basketball Association's Brooklyn Nets, will seat 14,500 for hockey.
But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday that Barclays developer Bruce Ratner and Wang have discussed seating and expect to add seats to bring capacity to 15,015-plus. That would match Winnipeg's MTS Centre (15,015) as the smallest NHL arena.
"Winnipeg is doing quite well. ... It's a non-issue [in Brooklyn]," said Bettman.
On Oct. 2, New York and the New Jersey Devils were scheduled to play a pre-season game at Barclays Center, but it was cancelled due to the NHL lockout.
An Islanders news release Wednesday morning mentioned that Barclays Center is "located atop one of the largest transportation hubs in New York City," and is accessible by 11 subway lines, the Long Island Rail Road, and 11 bus lines."
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.
Bettman said at the time that the league ideally wanted the club to remain in Nassau County.
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 has complained that the dilapidated building is unsuited for a professional sports franchise.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the building 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.
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."With files from The Associated Press