Charles Wang Februay 27th 2009 Interview Transcript Revisited

New York Islander Fan Central | 5/11/2012 04:35:00 PM |
Some may recall Charles Wang's interview with Newsday on 2/27/2009, I found it in NYIFC archives but did a poor job on tagging so consider this a repeat with a purpose because Wang makes clear Isles watch every penny.

Anyway here is the full transcript here.

Islanders owner Charles Wang invited Newsday sports editor Hank Winnicki, news side reporter Eden Laikin and sports writers Jim Baumbach, Mark Herrmann and Greg Logan to meet with him to discuss the Lighthouse Project in a wide-ranging interview earlier today. Also in attendance were Michael Picker, president of the Lighthouse Development Group, Lighthouse public relations head Paul Lancey and general manager Garth Snow.

Here is a transcript of the informative interview in which Wang and his associates attempted to convey their sense of urgency regarding progress of the approval process with the Town of Hempstead and other agencies (When Wang, Picker or Lancey are speaking in answer to a question or offering a comment, it is indicated):

No. We never solicited, nor did anyone come to us and say, 'Hey.' I don't think anyone anticipates that it is for sale, and it isn't for sale. I think if I made a statement, 'It's for sale,' we would have interest locally. We know we have interest outside local interests, but we have not heard from anyone here. Seriously, we have not had interest [locally]. If there's interest, we would listen, I'm sure. Like anybody else, we would be polite and civil, but I'm not looking to sell the team.

We never spoke to them.

WHAT ABOUT BRUCE RATNER AND HIS ATLANTIC YARD PROJECT/WANG: I know Bruce Ratner, but he's got his issues to deal with. We're not contemplating anything there.

HOW MUCH LOCAL INTEREST VS. CANADIAN MARKETS OR KANSAS CITY/WANG: Or others. It's a big country we've got here. I don't know. There's not been anything that says we're interested or not interested. There's never been anybody who says, 'We're looking for people who are interested,' and there still isn't. Let me be very, very clear. I live on Long Island; I grew up on Long Island. I've been here 56 years. My determination, my goal is to build this thing and keep the team on Long Island.

IS IT A CONCERN THAT GLENDALE, AZ. FACILITY IS STRUGGLING/WANG: I think there's a fundamental difference, and it probably says more about why we can't do it the way Glendale did it. In Glendale, the owner of the arena doesn't have the income or the revenue from all around it. It's just the arena. So, when you go out of that arena and you want to stay later and have dinner, he doesn't get any of that. If you've been to Glendale, it's limited what you can get there because it's driven or out to all that development which has been done, which by the way, is beautiful if you've ever seen it.

SO THE HOUSING AROUND THE ARENA IS INDEPENDENT/WANG: Yeah, it's different developers. It would be the same model here if somebody said, 'Build an arena.' We said we can't. Things started basically when we went to [Nassau County executive Tom] Suozzi and said, 'Okay, what are we going to do?' I just bought the team to save it for Long Island.' Wonderful, all the violins were playing. Okay, what are you going to do? He said, 'I can't fix the arena. I don't have any money. We're broke.' He just got into office. He said, 'We're broke, period. Matter of fact, I have to find a way so we don't lose $1.5 or $2 million a year keeping it up.' I said, 'You've got to make the elevators work. We can't get up to the suites. You've got to put bathrooms in. This is nuts.' We pay for bathrooms. We pay for the dasher board that goes around the rink just to make it something. We clean it up as best we can, but we're not responsible for the arena. So, what happened is Tom said, 'Come up with a new way.' We said, 'Let's develop this as a destination for Nassau, for Long Island, really.' It can be shared so people come to games early, stay later, wonderful things. Because if you just want to fix the arena, he doesn't need the town. Why did we wait six years to get to the town? For what? You don't need it. So, when people say, 'He can go ahead [and build just the arena],' it's not my choice. The county made a decision. We're just the designated developer. It's still their land.

IN REALITY THE TOWN ONLY HAS HAD YOUR PLAN SINCE NOVEMBER, 2007/WANG: For the town's consideration, yes.

PICKER: But Charles has been expending money. This has been a very long process since we started this, whether it be laying out the 60-story tower and everything else. Those were designs, which were built based upon conversations we had with the county executive. We are moving forward on a lease. We actually had drafted a lease with the county executive, and then when he ran for governor is when this whole thing went into the RFP process. That's where it went into this holding pattern. Then it went from the four bidders down to the two bidders and then to the designated developer. But all along, you've had Charles expending the money to make the designs as we were moving forward. And it's going backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards. That's why we constantly mention the length of time because, in 2003, Charles was talking about this whole thing when we met with Tom and got this lease going. Money was spent on doing a lease.

LENGTH OF WAIT/WANG: I don't fault the town. I don't say the town has taken seven years. I made it clear at the [recent] hearing. It ain't that fast-tracked, though. Let's not kid ourselves.

HOW CAN IT NOT BE AFFECTED BY DOWNTURN IN ECONOMY/WANG: I don't know if it will be affected. I cannot even go out and get financing until I get approval. They'll say, 'What's it for?' I don't know. What can I do?

PICKER ON FINANCING: I've been having a lot of those conversations. The people we're talking to on the lending side are looking to know what and when we're going to need it by. It's been a difficult thing to answer because of this long trek we've been through. That's why it's important to move the ball forward with the town and the county so we can have some definitiveness to finalize things with lenders.

IS ANY FEDERAL MONEY AVAILABLE THROUGH STIMULUS/PICKER: There could be, but it's got to be approved.

STIMULUS FUNDS/WANG: There's all kinds of opportunities, and we're talking to different agencies, but we've got to decide, 'Are we going to be able to build it? And what is it we're going to build?' They may say, 'Yes, you can, but we only want a little outhouse next to the Coliseum.' If it doesn't pay, I'm not going to do it. Somewhere, somebody, we've got to make a decision. And it's got to be very, very soon. I mean, I don't want to put deadlines at this point. I will soon, I'm sure, put a deadline. But it's got to be very soon.

EXPLAIN 120-DAY LOOPHOLE IN LEASE/PICKER: As part of our designated developer agreement, basically, it's a function of Tom Suozzi and Charles and Scott [Rechler, Wang's developer partner] working together on a lease that gets it to the [Nassau County] legislature, and Tom is committed to do that. Once that lease gets to the legislature, they have 120 days to approve it or not. If they don't approve it, or if they reject it before the 120 days is up, the lease is terminable between us and the county. You had to understand that, when we got the designated developer agreement and we had to go to the Town of Hempstead, you have to understand the concern a developer would have that he's spending money with the Town of Hempstead on what they're going to approve or not approve. Then, to have to go back to the county and say, 'Now, I need a lease' after he spent all this time and money, there had to be some ramifications if it didn't happen. That's why it was very important to work with the county when we did the designated developer agreement to make sure everybody had some stake in the game in case, for some reason, politics becomes politics and we somehow can't get to the finish line.


WHAT COULD HAPPEN IN THAT 120 DAYS/WANG; They have to have a legislative vote. If they approve it, great. We're gold and we go. If they don't approve it, I'm finished with my lease.

PICKER CLARIFIES: If they reject it in five days, five days is what it is [to end lease]. It's not 120 days we have to wait.

WHAT IF THE TOWN NEVER APPROVES THE LIGHTHOUSE/PICKER: I can't lease because I don't have the zoning authority to do anything.

THERE'S NO OPT OUT/PICKER: Charles would have to decide how long he wants to keep playing this situation. It's a matter of when you say, 'Hey, I don't want to do this anymore.' This happened in Plainview when Charles tried to do a mixed-use development here. We spent a lot of money and time.

WANG ON PULLING PLUG IN PLAINVIEW: We worked with a town consultant and came up with a plan and everything. In the morning meeting, out of nowhere, things got [off track].

PICKER CONTINUES STORY: The town supervisor was there, and it was decided he was not handling things properly. Before the night meeting, Charles and I spoke, and we decided, if this is not what they want, fine, we'll go on. Charles' only comment to them was, 'We're going to pull out, but you have to let me show the video of what could have been here.' A lot of people went off not being as informed as they should be. The supervisor announced that Charles was pulling the application and we're not going forward. The only thing is he requested to show the video. The video was shown and then came the 'Oohs and aahs. That could have been here? I didn't know that.' This is the same thing. You reach a point where there's an economic pressure, or you just don't want to do it anymore for whatever reason.

IF TOWN DOESN'T APPROVE, ARE YOU STUCK WITH LEASE/PICKER: Oh, yeah. We've done over 180 community meetings. That comes up, and we tell everybody, 'We know we have a lease. But whether it's here or somewhere else -- Bruce Ratner is the perfect example he bought a team, where he's leaving it in one place [Meadowlands] in order to get to another place [Atlantic Yard in Brooklyn] -- it doesn't hurt us in that time frame. Kansas City comes out [of potential bidding for Isles] because they already have an arena. But other places around North America could build a place [while waiting for Isles' lease in Nassau to expire in 2015]. But Charles has been very clear that we want it here. We want to make it go. So, we're pushing hard to get it. Like minutes after the scope got approved, we submitted 6,000 pages [of environmental studies].

WANG ON URGENCY TO BUILD: If we don't build this, shame on us. This is something that has to be done. If we can't, you tell me no. It's okay. I mean, really, we'll go where we're loved.

ARE YOU HOPEFUL OF STARTING CONSTRUCTION THIS SUMMER/WANG: Yeah, I think so. This truly would be turning the world upside down. You're really betting that, one, the county executive can get the lease within five or six days [after approval by the Town of Hempstead], and it's not going to get horsed around for 119 days. I don't know. The probability, the chances realistically, probably not. Difficult, but I've got to know. Certainly, there's a time frame in terms of when I must know where we're going.


OF 2009/WANG: Yeah. But I don't want to have ultimatums. I have not done the ultimatums. I'm sure I will coming up soon because I'm going to tell them, 'Here's what it is.' But we've been, I don't want to say, jerked around on this thing back and forth for a while now. I'm committed to keeping it on Long Island. I want to keep it on Long Island. It belongs on Long Island. Let us build the damn thing.

PICKER SAYS ECONOMIC ISSUES ARE AS IMPORTANT AS ISLANDERS: It's more than an Islanders issue. One thing that came out of the scoping meeting from all the people that came up and spoke and that was jobs. There was somebody in the back of the audience that, when everybody was pounding their chests about nine months from the town [to reach this stage] said, 'Well, I know people who have been unemployed for nine months. They don't think it's very fast.' This is a much bigger issue. Part of our documentation we submitted says we don't believe the Coliseum stays if the Islanders aren't here. Charles mentioned the losses the county already is absorbing for their building. Those losses get even bigger when your major tenant goes away. So, the people who go to concerts, the circus, the exhibition hall, that's gone. Now, they're driving to Madision Square Garden or somewhere else. I think people are starting to understand that this is not an Islanders issue, this is something we need for Long Island. The faster we can get government to move, the faster everybody can reap the benefits of what this brings to them.

JOB AND TAX FIGURES/PICKER: We're talking about 75,000 jobs.

WANG ADDS: When it's built, there will be 20,000 permanent jobs. The [economic] crisis here will be very different than elsewhere then.

DOES BAD ECONOMY HELP/PICKER: When you look at it that way, yes. This is big stuff to people in the community. You've got services being cut or taxes going up. Our projections say, when it's fully built, it generates $71 million a year in tax money. I don't remember [the breakdown]. The sales tax is the majority of it. Of the sales tax, over $25 million would be earmarked for the Uniondale School District, which badly needs it. Then, you've got the entertainment tax and the property tax.

WANG ON PRJECTIONS: Let's say we're off by 50 percent. Let's get real about this. This is all benefits we need on Long Island. We've got to get going. We've got to do something here. We can't just keep fighting this thing. Do something. All this is just a catalyst to get us started. It's not the answer to everything, and I can say that. But as a catalyst, you like to be ahead of everything that is happening.

LANCEY ON AREA VENUES: Your newspaper covers nine professional sports teams. Eight of them will have a new or refurbished facility that's underway during the course of the next couple of years. For us to attract any of those events will become that much more difficult as a stand-alone [arena].

HOW MUCH OF $3.7 BILLION HAS TO BE FINANCED/WANG: I don't know. Give me the approvals. I can tell you.

PICKER ON FINANCING: It's all very doable, but that's an important point you brought up [about time it takes to read 6,000-page environmental impact study] that the town allowed us to do. We've been giving them sections of the EIS. The first section we submitted was in November. As we finish the sections, they've allowed us to give it to them. Once you finish the scope, there's the formality of giving them all of [the EIS]. That was just the formality. They've over these months since November received pieces of this as they worked their way to completion.

IS IT UNREALISTIC TO THINK YOU WILL GET EVERYTHING YOU WANT/WANG: Tell me what you don't want. Just tell me. Is that so complicated? Some people suggest it might be too ambitious. Some people think they may not like the color of the grass. 'It's green.' Tell me what you want and what you don't want. Then, I can make a decision what I can do or don't do. It's not complicated. But to throw up these things…Tell me. You don't like it, say it. You didn't like the tower? We made a compromise. Even though our surveys say 85 percent are in favor of this project. Fifty percent are concerned about the height of that tower. Big deal. That smokestack [at waste recycling plant next to Meadowbrook Parkway] is taller than everything on Long Island. Go back and check to see how long that approval took to get through. You're going to get the shock of your life.


ARE YOU FLEXIBLE ON LIGHTHOUSE DESIGN/WANG: I just want you to tell me what you want or don't want and what I can or cannot do. That's all. You know my plan. You know what it is. Please tell me what you like or don't like. Don't tell me, 'Oh, come back to us because some people might not like this.' Don't do that. Just tell me what you want or you don't want. Then, I can decide. Why is that difficult?

CAN CONSTRUCTION BEGIN EARLIER WITH NO ARENA FOOTBALL/PICKER: It just forces us to do things a little bit different. Arena football is not the issue. We believe the AFL will be back next year. The construction, while it would have been ideal to start first in the bowl, we have plans that we can work around it. We'll start when we get those approvals and we can get everything in line. We're going to start whatever that day is. July, August, January, it doesn't matter. We'll just have to do it differently than we would have liked when Charles was talking about July, which made the most sense because it gave some certainty and it allowed the arena to basically be dark so we can work in the bowl.

NEED FOR CERTAINTY/WANG: More important than that is the certainty we're going to do it. Then, we can figure out what is the most flexible way to do it. But we've got to have the certainty we're going to do it. Right now, we're sort of in limbo.

THOUGHTS ON SUPPORT OF ISLES FANS/WANG: I think it's tremendous. As you know, I wasn't a hockey fan before I bought the team. It's so great. Now both of my little ones play hockey. One plays on a travel team, the other plays school hockey. It's great sport. I just don't want to see it leave here. Yes, [Islanders hockey] it's the engine. It absolutely is. That's what makes great metropolitan areas that people come to as a destination. You have to have things people want to see. Every major metropolitan area in this country has major-league sports.

YOU SEE THIS AS A MAJOR LEAGUE AREA/WANG: Yeah. It's got 2.8 million people. This is major stuff.

IS THERE A BALLPARK FIGURE YOU WANT FROM STIMULUS MONEY/WANG: No. I'm not going there. It's not contingent on nothing. We just want the approval so we can get started. Then, we can make our plans and get the financing.

LANCEY ON COMPROMISING: What does Charles make smaller? Does he get rid of some of the next-generation housing? Does he lose some of the jobs? Those are the things that will go away. You ask about the affordability. I can assure you, if the building is not here, it will be a lot less affordable to go to the Garden and drive to the city.

WANG: Just tell me what you want to do. That's all we're asking.

KATE MURRAY SAYS YOU COULD HAVE HAD COLISEUM DONE BY NOW/WANG: Who's paying for that? The county, the owner, says, 'I can't do it.' I said, 'I won't do it because that's your job.' How do we together do something that's good for Long Island longer term, create the kind of jobs and so forth. That's why there is sports technology [facility], to create industry and do something for all of Long Island. Here's the plan. This is what we want to do, work together. We came up with a designated developer and now, it's in front of the town. If you want to refurbish it, the county can refurbish it any time they want. It's their building, their land. They don't even have to talk to Kate Murray.

SO WHY NOT GO AHEAD/WANG: The county says no. They don't have to go to the Town of Hempstead. For them [TOH] to claim credit, like saying, 'If you want to refurbish it, we'll move it quickly…'

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO SAY YOU'RE ONLY CONCERN IS THE REAL ESTATE AND THE ISLES ARE JUST THE MEANS TO THE END/WANG: If that's the way they feel, good. What am I going to say? No it's not. I'm doing this thing because I want the Islanders to thrive. Don't forget, I didn't have to buy the Islanders. I bought them. I wanted them to thrive on Long Island. I'm going to make some money off this, too. I'm going to develop something here that's unbelievable. One day my grandkids driving down the Meadowbrook can say, 'My grandpa built that.' Whoo, that's nice. Right? If they want to say, it's because of the Islanders, fine. But is this good for Long Island? Let's not forget that part. It's going to help us sustain the quality of life we have and produce the kind of jobs that create the industries, not just jobs. But when you say Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, art and fashion in Manhattan, Pratt Institute. Long Island? 'We have the lighthouse out in Montauk, and we're only 30 minutes from Manhattan.' I think we have more than that. We have anything you want to do here, but we don't have a place. We need a place here that you can go to that is what we're about. We've got to stop just extending more strip malls. Somewhere, we've got to say, 'Let's build some economic engines that can drive the future.' That's what we're trying to do here.

DO BUSINESSES NEARBY FEEL THEY WILL BE HURT/WANG: I think they will thrive. Our retail is lifestyle retail catered around sports. Let's say we do the NCAA Frozen Four. Where are [fans] going to go? They're going to the world's second-largest shopping center [Roosevelt Field].

PICKER ON BENEFITS: Even local businesses benefits. To get to the Coliseum, you're going to drive through East Meadow if you come from one direction, and there's shops in there. They're going to benefit.

LANCEY: People living on site, it's not a prison, they can come out and go to restaurants and shops in the neighborhoods.

DO NEARBY RETAILERS THINK THEY WILL THRIVE/WANG: I hope they do. We've been educating. We've been out in the community having more sessions. Same kinds of questions as now.

FANS WANT TO KNOW HOW QUALITY OF TEAM AND PAYROLL ARE TIED IN/WANG: To get a quality team, you have to have the kind of revenue to support the payroll you want. You have to have the kind of facility where people want to come to watch a hockey game. The kind of facility where it's a destination and they want to experience it. Better economic condition, better team. Most players that come here they don't know Long Island. They think of it as the Marriott hotel and the rink, then get me to the airport. If that's the case, I better make that arena [good] because these are the two things they see. [Players ask] 'When are you going to get this Lighthouse? That's [the Coliseum] really a dump.' We know it's a dump. Because nothing has been invested for how many years now? It's like anything else, you start to revitalize and things get going. We want to be a catalyst to rebuild Long Island.

COULD RATNER MOVE NETS BACK TO LONG ISLAND/WANG: I'm going to answer this a different way, and there's no commitment. But imagine if we had it. Imagine if we did it, and we had that thing. 'C,mon, Bruce, let me show you where you could be if you want to be.' Now what do I do? 'C,mon Bruce, let's go in the back way because the elevator ain't working today.' Okay? I didn't answer the question. But think about it if we had this thing built…Imagine if I could do that here? But I can't. That train has left or that boat has sailed.

HAVE FEAR OF WHAT HAPPENS NOW IN TOH APPROVAL PROCESS/WANG: I don't know if it's a fear. We want to educate people about what's at risk, what's at stake. We have close to 25,000 petitions and letters we don't know what to do with. We were thinking of sending it to Kate, but then we thought she'd be upset at us….Hempstead Night should have been a glorious night. They put Kate Murray's picture up, it was terrible [the boos]. I was embarrassed. To send your receiver of taxes to drop the puck? That wasn't politically astute. They sent him out for the slaughter. [Hermmann aside: I heard Bill Guerin told him, 'Tough job, huh?']

WHAT IF TOH DOESN'T APPROVE LIGHTHOUSE/WANG: Then, my options continue to be open. Then, I have to make another decision. I think the county and the town ultimately will recognize [the need for the Lighthouse] because we elect these guys. They're supposed to serve us. If enough people say, 'You aren't serving us, they're going to get upset about it.'



WANG ON ISLES ANNUAL LOSSES: Don't forget, we lose about $20 million to $30 million a year on the Islanders. [Says you can look at books then reconsiders based on NHL rules against it]. But I knew going in what the commitment was. I'm not saying, 'Poor me.' I knew what it was going to get. I didn't think it would take this long to eventually get righted.

WANG ON LOSSES INCLUDING TV INCOME: That's real money. That's lost. Yeah, it includes everything.

HAVE LOSSES AFFECTED PAYROLL/WANG: We watch every penny. We try to be as conservative as we can. You see the attendance isn't that great, and you know the deal we have with SMG isn't that great. The more fans we get, we get admissions, but we don't get a cut of food, beverages or parking. Once we build a new one, the county is going to condemn their lease.

PICKER ON INCOME: Merchandise is up, we give a percentage of ticket revenue to them. We give them a fixed number for sponsorship now. It used to be 35 to 45 percent of sponsorship. We bought ourselves out of that this season. So, now, it's a fixed number we pay SMG.

WANG ON PAYMENT TO SMG FOR SPONSORSHIP: The reason is that the inventory we're creating, digital signs and things like that, we really want to be able to create without having to think. So, we paid SMG money and bought it all out.

WHY DID ISLES AGREE TO LEASE/PICKER: It's the old owners. We knew that going in. We understood the negative sides of it. But there was a vision that we thought we could pull off and we're hoping to do that and that we can push this forward in a timely fashion to alleviate all these types of questions that are out there to get us the benefits we've been talking about.

DOES IT SCARE YOU THAT IT'S YOUR LEGACY IF TEAM MOVES/WANG: I enjoy the journey. It isn't where it ended. It shouldn't scare you. You do the best you can. You're not going to do everything. What makes entrepreneurs business people is they have a road they go down, a general direction, you might never get there, but you better enjoy going for it.

WHAT'S NEXT/WANG: We're talking to the town continuously. In terms of the pressure on the town, it's going to be big because the fans are [fired] up. I didn't realize what happened on Hempstead Night, but there's some angry people out there, and that's not a good thing for any politician. Hopefully, they'll see it. What's next? We have a bunch of things they were working together with us. They accepted delivery of the 18 boxes of [ESI]. When they gave us the approval, they knew we were ready to submit because they'd been working with the same documents. Now, if they take 30 days to look at them, you've probably got a problem. So, we're going to gauge it and see. But we ain't going to get stalled. We're moving.

NYIFC Comments:
New York Islander Fan Central later had an entry on 5/3/2009 when Jim Baumbach held the books the Isles released to him for close to a month based on this interview after complaining he never received them.