Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Seeing the Light from the Lighthouse

It's not easy getting up at 5:30 am and getting into Nassau County by 8 when you live on the east-end. But I managed, sort of. My outfit could have used more thought and it was a bad hair day, but I was in the car and racing down Sunrise Highway by 7:10 am.

Yes, Long Island has TRAFFIC. It is everywhere during the morning and evening rush hours. I got stuck in it just as I hit the entrance to Meadowbrook Parkway. My cell rang and it was Islesblogger.com Mike, "Where are you? It's crazy already!"

The estimate of a "few hundred" attendees that had been printed the day before was grossly underestimated. I knew it would be. If there were 1,500 people at the Marriott in March, why wouldn't there be almost as many on a beautiful summer morning? I was right.

I made it on time. That was a feat. I parked away from the crowd and walked towards the bandstand truck. It was a little before 8 am and it was already packed.

My friend, the Sign Guy and his adorable daughter are becoming fixtures at these things. They had a prominent spot next to the bandstand.

It was only 8:05 am but it was already exceptionally hot. I seriously hate the heat. I looked around at the sea of red T-shirts from one particular Union Local. There were other groups of Union men in blue. I didn't realize their unemployment rate is 35%. That is sickening.

I picked up my "Just Build IT!" t-shirt and put it over my shoulders. It was just too hot to wear.

Garth Snow, "the Islanders new architect," as Howie Rose called him, was behind the bandstand with Josh Bailey and Joel Rechlicz, but none of them addressed the crowd. Joel and Josh smiled as they observed the crowd. Certainly they were surprised at the passion the Islanders fans can muster, even outside the rink.

When Charles Wang took the podium, he quieted the crowd with "We'll build it. We'll build it." He thanked the ever growing crowd who was up early and standing in the heat to support them. "It shows how widespread the support for the Lighthouse project is. The public comment period is actually the most important part of the process. That's why our organization has conducted over 202 community outreach meetings." (None of which those who showed up on the News12 broadcast after the Gov. David Patersen press conference had attended.) "The public has a right to be part of this process, and your support has been instrumental in getting to where we are today. But we are not there yet."

Tom Suozzi is a brilliant public speaker. Even as a Republican, I can see that. He spoke for over four minutes. I have a feeling he will go far in politics. Nassau County is just a pit-stop for him. He made some excellent, passionate points about Nassau County. Most notably: the last time there was a big movement in favor of a development was 1947. "100s of people showed up, 100s of veterans showed up at the Town Hall in Hempstead in favor of the Levittown project. It's the project that stated the suburban movement of Long Island. Nassau County became the fastest growing county in America. It created a model for the rest of the country for suburbia. Today, for the first time in history, more than half the people live in suburbia in the United States. This project is very important for the economic generator it will be. 90% of Nassau County has to stay exactly the way it is now. The places that you live. Single family homes, parks, open spaces. North Shore water fronts, South Shore beaches. 90% of Nassau County must stay the same. We've got to re imagine and redevelop 10% of Nassau County and make it into New suburbia. This project is the symbol for what is necessary for the hope and future of Nassau County."

Bobby Nystrom, a REAL NY Islander in more ways than one, lent his voice and his memories to the Union battle cries of "What do we Want?" "Just Build IT!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"

"He IS what Long Island is all about. He IS what the Islanders are all about." Howie Rose yelled at the crowd. But when Nystrom approached the microphone, he humbly announced "No. YOU are Long Island. YOU are what make Long Island what it is. And YOU are the reason I have stayed here since 1972. And you are the reason the NY Islanders went out there every night and busted their hump because they wanted people like you to feel good about what they were doing out there. And I'm just so glad to be here today, because we gotta get this done. There is no better place to live than Long Island. But as Tom said before, the only way we are going to continue to grow is by projects like this. And if we don't get projects like this, then each one of your children and grand-children are going to be living in North Carolina or Colorado and all different areas of the country because they support growth. We need growth. We need to have those 75,000 construction jobs here. I want to be a little selfish here. We need to keep the Islanders on Long Island. We lost the Jets. We have the New Jersey Giants. We can't afford to lose the NY Islanders because they are the symbol of Long Island. They are a symbol of pride, a symbol of Champions. We just need to refurbish that building so you the fans can enjoy the championships that are going to come here in the next few years."

Mike Bossy was late to the party dressed in black and carrying his briefcase, so he didn't have time to speak. The organist played "Boss-Y. Boss-Y" as the crowd chanted his name. He stood on the platform with the others, but didn't address the crowd. He was up at the front behind Mr. Wang and Mr. Rechler in line as the crowd marched forward towards Hofstra.

The walk from Parking Lot 8 to the Hofstra theater was lined with police cars and photographers. It was an easy walk, but for on lookers, it must have been frightening. It seemed to stretch forever. Everyone was orderly with only a few outbursts of "Juuu-st Build IT!" I almost didn't know what they were saying. "Just" is a single syllable word. When it's broken up, it's confusing.

The photographers separated from the pack to get photos. The crowd just marched on. It was exactly what it was supposed to be. A show of solidarity and respectfulness.

Once on the Hofstra property, a group of parents stood watching the line go by. "Where's the end?" one asked. Someone said to them "Come join us!" It was almost "Moonie-esqe." (If you're too young to know what that refers to, go ask your parents. But the woman looked at us in fear. "We're only here for parent orientation." If they were from out-of-state, they just got a taste of Long Island passion.

It was cool in the theater. I was grateful. I sat upstairs with the media. (Or should I say my blog box brethren.)

The meeting started almost on time and there were other items on the town meeting schedule. The Lighthouse DGEIS was sixth on the list. I will say this, I have never been more proud of the Islanders fan base who sat there quietly and were very respectful of the proceedings. They gave Charles Wang an ovation that sounded as if the WHO had hit the stage.

The two films the developers presented were so well produced and so touching, I sat with tears welling up in my eyes. (I doubt I was the only one.) It's so true. We have so much to be proud of here. Not just in our beautiful island, but our ONE and only major sports franchise who has brought us so much over the years.

Gary Bettman did a wonderful job speaking for the League and as a resident, not only in the meeting standing in front of the Town Board, but also in the Press Conference immediately following his turn at the podium. Of course, as a lawyer, he was very careful not to put too much stock into the wonderful reception the project is getting. He knows there is still a long road ahead. Even though he does not want to see this proud franchise leave, he made it clear, that without a new arena, the Islanders will not remain on the Island "one minute longer than they legally bound to."

I was so late getting back to work, but as I left the hearing, this appropriate sign was just left by the flower beds.

The Lighthouse WILL be OUR house. The NY Islanders house. A place to be proud of. A place that will ice a winning team with about the best fans in the entire league. THAT is a given.

1 comment:

GUESS WHO said...