Oct. 11, 2018
One man's Quest - Save the New York Islanders & Long Island
As most of you know, who follow me on twitter @Baldassano, i have been an avid and outspoken individual when it comes to the possibility of the New York Islanders moving to (as of this writing) the undeveloped or underdeveloped land that was the old Pilgrim State Mental Hospital in Brentwood N.Y. This was (and still is) a vision i had, with others, about the sheer possibility of not only bringing Long Island's only professional sports team back home, but economic growth and jobs to a county that is mostly overlooked and forgotten about because of its geographic location to New York City.
Without jumping straight in, i would like a few things to be noted first. Deserved thanks to Mr. Charles Wang, who really tried more then any human should to keep the Islanders in Nassau County, amidst his financial losses and just brutal corruption from the Hempstead town board. Deserved thanks also to Mikhail Prokorov, Brett Yormark, and Bruce Ratner, who really tried to make Brooklyn work for the Isles, among issues from the get go about putting a hockey team in an arena not made at all for hockey.
The vision of Pilgrim State is an easy one to see, on the surface. The Land that was once the biggest psychiatric hospital in the world (1900+ Acres in the 1930's) has sat pretty much dormant for the last 40 years. Land once filled with huge brick structures, towers, even its own power station and post office, has remained an undeveloped weed growing wasteland waiting for a developer to come in and do something with the land. Enter Jerry Wolkoff. Mr. Wolkoff and his development firm responsible for the "Heartland" developments (Yes, Heartland Golf is one of them), currently holds the development rights to the land aforementioned. His current project and vision, a 4 Billion dollar project called "Heartland Town Square", which is oddly enough basically what Charles Wang's Lighthouse project was for Uniondale, is traversing its way thru town votes, and labor unions and such..
Mr. Wolkoff's vision is one of not only revitalization to an area of long island, but huge opportunity for economic growth and Jobs for an area that sorely needs it. Lets put that aside for a few minutes and throw my thoughts into WHY this move from Brooklyn to Brentwood makes perfect sense.
1) Accessibility. As i stated above, Pilgrim State is located in Brentwood, which is in Western Suffolk County, on Long Island. It's land hovers what is the west side of the Sagtikos Parkway, just south of the Long Island Expressway. The Northern State parkway, and the Southern State parkway are additional routes that connect to the Sagtikos north and south. This gives Pilgrim State 2 more highways to access the area, then the Nassau Coliseum, which resides off the Meadowbrook Parkway, with additional routes from the Northern and Southern state. Another major factor, the Long Island Railroad already has a spur (hasn't been used since 1978) that runs to pilgrim state. This means the track would have to be refurbished but its existence means public transportation is already in place. This is a HUGE benefit to the plan, as the use of mass transit would lessen the traffic burden in the area 10 fold. By car, this location is only 15 to 20 mins further east then the current Nassau Coliseum. That should not deter any NYC fans from Queens or Brooklyn, who use to come to the coliseum, to come to brentwood.
2) The Land. I have not taken a drive thru the Pilgrim State area in about a year or so.. Outside of a wrong turn, there was really no reason to go there unless you loved Urban Exploration. From what I recall, the last time i drive through there most of the remaining structures were reduced to huge piles of rubble and brick. Development was moving forward, but progress seemed painfully slow. The sheer amount of flat useable land at this location is rare for Long Island (Unless you have a spare Grumman lot available). I don't see why it would be any issue of Zoning, as for a project to being such growth, how would he towns not vote to change the zoning to accommodate it. It was obviously used for commercial use (aka a hospital). We are talking about somewhere between 400 and 600 Acres of land that is just sitting there, growing weeds. After a wonderful call was placed to the offices of Mr. Wolkoff, his secretary told me i would be getting a call back, as he is very personable and loves to talk.
3) Economic Boon. Ever since President Trump was elected, the countries economy has taken a pretty big uptick, with a push for more labor, American workers, American products. How much of a boost to the local Suffolk (and Nassau) counties economy would it be for not only construction, but the creation of potentially thousands of jobs centered around an Arena, and the Heartland Town Square project. Retail shops, restaurants, security, you name it. I have placed a call to the office of Suffolk County Exec Steve Ballone, as of this writing i await a call back on his comments about this. Concerts, High School Events, Wrestling.. You name it. All money coming into the county to better the families of Long Island.
4) The History. No one can deny the New York Islanders history and tradition is here on Long Island. From their inception in 1972, even to their current existence in Brooklyn, the team's history and fan base remains on Long Island. As time as passed us on, Long Islanders have lost alot of the things that once brought families together here. Rising costs of living, taxes have driven out so many people. As a father of 2 wonderful children and a loving wife, the one thing we all loved doing together was going to an Islander game. It's Us. It belongs to Us. Our Team. Our Home.
Now of course this is not a simple 1-2-3 fix, shake hands, build it and lets rock and roll. Far form it. There are thousands of questions, one most forefront, Who would PAY for such a thing? I don't have an answer for that (Yet). How much are the new owners of the Islanders willing to chip in? Will the county be able to borrow on some money knowing they will get it back once its opened? How much would Wolkoff want to redevelop his project to fit in a sports arena?
I received a call back from Mr. Wolkoff around 1:25pm, in which we had a fantastic 10 minute discussion about the Islanders, Brooklyn, Nassau/Mangano/Coliseum, and his Heartland Town development project in Brentwood. Mr. Wolkoff is a very smart man, had excellent knowledge of the situation in Brooklyn and Nassau. While he did not give a direct Yes or No answer to the redevelopment of the Pilgrim State area, and the subsequent planning or construction possibility of an NHL Sized arena on his 420+ acres, he did say to check back with him later on in the Year, and Next year to see how things turn out, Not only in Brooklyn/Nassau, but the current zoning issues he is going thru in Brentwood (Gee, Sounds eerily familiar eh? #Lighthouse). He is a wonderful man who is trying to do something amazing for Suffolk/Brentwood and has my support for his project on the Pilgrim State land. As this plays out with the Islanders, i will keep in contact with him and steer any possibilities of this becoming a reality his way. I thank him and his staff for returning my call.
I would also like to add (forgot to mention) that Mr. Wolkoff has been trying to develop the area of Pilgrim State for over 14 Years.
No word yet from the offices of Steve Ballone, Suffolk County Exec.
I will update this blog post as more thoughts and calls are made.