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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Coliseum’s Future

County Executive Edward Mangano made news last week by suggesting a public referendum may determine whether Nassau residents invest $400 million for the construction of a new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a county-owned facility.

“For too long, Nassau Coliseum and the property that surrounds it has laid to waste rather than generate revenue for the county that can help hold the line on property taxes,” the county executive stated. “The aging Coliseum is no longer competitive with other sports complexes and conference centers around the region and nation. Long Island’s only professional sports team, the New York Islanders, have threatened to leave Nassau County in three years if a new Coliseum is not built.”

The public referendum was offered up in Mangano’s ‘State of the County’ address as a third, and final, option for building a sports-entertainment destination at Coliseum site, situated off Hempstead Turnpike in Uniondale.

Option one, in county executive Mangano’s words, is “a sustainable mixed used development which hasn’t proven economically viable at this time.” Charles Wang, the New York Islanders’ owner and the prospective developer of the Lighthouse project, which called for mixed use development in and around the Coliseum, might have contested this assertion but Wang’s silence is further evidence that the Lighthouse initiative has been abandoned.

Option two, in the county executive’s view, is a public-private partnership with the Shinnecock Nation to develop a gaming casino on the land that surrounds the Coliseum. If a casino were built at the site, the project would also include a hotel and conference center, a refurbished Coliseum, as well as restaurants and retail stores, the county executive stated. Those opposing the casino concept will likely point to Aqueduct’s soon-to-open racino, Resorts World New York, in Ozone Park, Queens, as potential competition for the regional gambling dollar. But Aqueduct’s racino patrons will only have access to gaming machines and video lottery terminals, with a thoroughbred racing facility next door, a combination of attractions that could keep it from becoming a destination location.

So, if the Lighthouse project is dead, and a casino doesn’t materialize, option three—a referendum on whether the public is willing to pay for a new Coliseum—could become option one.

The Nassau County Office of Legislative Budget Review issued a report in June 2006, and offered the argument in favor of building a new arena, rather than renovating the existing Coliseum, which opened in 1972.

“Compared to a new facility, renovation of the Coliseum could prove to be less than optimum in design and inefficient, as construction would need to be phased around the Islanders’ schedule, which would reduce the County’s revenues and indirect economic activity,” the document stated. “In addition, a new facility would have a longer life and compete more favorably with the other new arenas in the Tri-State area.”

The Islanders, the Coliseum’s primary tenant, play 41 home games there between October and April, with live musical acts and other shows filling out the rest of the year’s calendar.

The Coliseum’s fate has been debated for years but a hard deadline—the 2015 expiration of the Islanders’ lease—is on the horizon, and it looks like a public referendum could prove decisive.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net