Nassau Coliseum, the long-time home of NHL ice hockey team the New York Islanders, is set to be shut on an indefinite basis as its operator, Onexim Sports and Entertainment, seeks investors to take over its lease deal.

The Bloomberg news agency, citing people familiar with the matter, said the Long Island arena will be closed as Onexim, which is owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, seeks investors to take over operations and assume the remaining debt on the building.

Onexim holds a 49-year lease to operate the Coliseum (pictured), through which Nassau County reportedly receives at least $4.4m (£3.5m/€3.9m) in annual rent. Onexim is said to have told potential investors that it would hand over the lease in return for assuming around $100m in loans on the property. The company, which is said to be laying off arena employees, could also surrender the lease to its lenders.

“While we still believe in the enormous long-term economic value of the Coliseum and the development of the surrounding land, (Nassau Events Center) recognises that such value will be best realised by other parties,” Onexim said in a statement reported by the New York Post newspaper.

“Accordingly, NEC has engaged with Nassau County, other important stakeholders, and potential investors to find the right party or parties to take over operations of the Coliseum. We cannot predict or control the actions of other interested stakeholders. However, we remain confident that the Coliseum and the proposed development project represent valuable investment opportunities, committed to the effort to find the right solution to the problems confronting the Coliseum, and hopeful that these efforts will bear fruit.”

The Islanders currently split games between Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and the Coliseum. The Coliseum previously served as the Islanders’ home for 30 years before the team moved to Barclays Center in 2015 amid a $180m renovation of the Coliseum that was completed in 2017.

Having spent so long at the Coliseum, Long Island is viewed as the Islanders’ spiritual home and in March the team announced that it would play all of its home games at the Coliseum during the 2020-21 campaign ahead of its move to Belmont Park the following season. The move was made possible after $6m in state-funded upgrades brought the Coliseum up to the required NHL standards.

The Coliseum has been closed during COVID-19 and the NHL last month spelled out its masterplan to resume its 2019-20 season by heading straight into an expanded playoffs, with 10 cities shortlisted to serve as two hubs for the action to take place. The Islanders are one of the teams still involved in the remainder of the season, but New York hasn’t been shortlisted as a potential hub city.

The Post said Onexim’s decision could see the Islanders return to Brooklyn as its new Belmont arena is not expected to open until the 2021-22 season. The Islanders are currently building a new 19,000-seat arena as part of the $1.3bn Belmont Park redevelopment project, and while work was suspended back in March due to the pandemic its targeted finish date is not expected to be impacted.

Commenting on Onexim’s decision, Nassau County executive Laura Curran said during her daily Facebook Live briefing: “I was very disappointed to hear this, but I can’t say I was surprised.

“Arenas are really taking a hard hit since the pandemic and the Coliseum has been dark for months now. Like with everything else, we will regroup, we will find our way forward. We will analyse everything, look at all of the options and we will recover from this.”

 In other news, the opening of the revamped KeyArena in Seattle is set to be pushed back to the late summer of 2021 amid delays caused by COVID-19.

While work on the $930m, privately-funded project has continued during the global pandemic, NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said yesterday (Tuesday) that delays caused by acquiring building materials and working around enhanced COVID-19 safety measures means the targeted opening date of June 1 next year is now more likely to be August to mid-September.

Leiweke told the Associated Press news agency: “Any delay is absolutely minimal. Given what we went through the workers have kept building. But there have been issues with supply lines.

“If it’s not going to be the date we hoped it’s not very long thereafter. And it’s impressive how they’ve actually kept things on schedule. If our target was early summer of 2021 to say we’re going to hit it sometime in the summer is pretty good considering all things.”

NHL Seattle, a new franchise in the North American ice hockey league, is due to commence play at the facility in 2021, and while its debut is not expected to be affected, women’s WNBA basketball team Seattle Storm will likely need to play at least part of its 2021 season at another arena.

NHL Seattle and Oak View Group (OVG) have grand ambitions for the new-look KeyArena and Leiweke added to the Seattle Times newspaper: “It’s really going to be extraordinary. Early on it might have sounded like hyperbole to say it’s going to be one of the most beautiful arenas in the world. (But) I can in a very declaratory way say it’s going to be the most beautiful arena in the world.”

Image: NYCB Live