Barclays Center officials now say that the Prospect Heights sports arena will be able to host a professional hockey team — a flip-flop that comes days after Nassau County voters rejected a new home for the struggling New York Islanders.
Developer Forest City Ratner originally intended to include hockey as a possible use for the under-construction $1-billion home for the Brooklyn-bound Nets, but the icemen were banished when the arena was redesigned two years ago to cut costs.
“We hope to explore hockey opportunities in the future,” Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark said this week, though quickly adding, “[but] our primary focus at the moment is to build the best sports and entertainment venue in the world.”
The Islanders’ lease at the Nassau County Veterans Coliseum will expire in 2015 — and the Barclays Center became a possible landing pad after suburban voters on Monday rejected a new arena for the team, once the elite of the National Hockey League.
An Islanders move to Brooklyn would enrage Madison Square Garden officials, whose Rangers currently have a monopoly in the city. But the Islanders’ deal with the NHL only requires the team to stay on Long Island — a plot of land that includes Brooklyn at its western apex.
On Tuesday, Borough President Markowitz all but donned an oversize jersey and a pair of skates, campaigning for the Islanders to move to Kings County.
“We’ve got lots of hockey fans, and since we’re technically still on Long Island, they can call themselves the ‘Brooklyn Islanders,’ ” Markowitz told our sister-publication, the New York Post. “If they come here, I would personally take the first spin on the Zamboni.”
The venue is designed to hold 18,000 seats for basketball, but its capacity for hockey games would only be 14,500 seats, about 1,750 seats less than the Nassau Coliseum. It would be the smallest arena in the National Hockey League.
The Islanders drew an average of just over 11,000 last season, when they were 30-39-13 and failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Experts say the limited seating arrangements may hinder the NHL from considering Brooklyn as a destination for a struggling franchise.
“The fact that they say it can support a hockey rink is not the same of saying that it can support a hockey rink up to National Hockey League standards,” said Neil deMause, author of “Field of Schemes,” an analysis of stadium deals. “It’s not a matter of taking out the first couple of rows — you’d have some seats that wouldn’t have site lines that would work for hockey.”
For now, arena opponents have vowed review any plan that would require a redrawing of the Barclays Center plans.
“At a time that residents are more concerned with their monthly bills, they should not bear the cost of a hockey franchise, including, but not limited, to infrastructure or retrofitting the Barclays arena,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene).
The Barclays Center will open in September, 2012, and host college hockey games and Disney on Ice, in addition to a full schedule of hoop dreams.
The larger Atlantic Yards project — which once called for 16 skyscrapers and thousands of units of luxury and affordable housing — is stalled because of the economy, Ratner has said. Renting the Barclays Center to the Islanders for 40 home games could generate much-needed revenue.