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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Nassau Hub Reset

Newt Gingrich said that President Obama’s public approval ratings have sagged because his campaign’s mantra has evolved from “yes, we can,” to here is “why we couldn’t.”

Bringing the analogy closer to home, Nassau’s voters made it clear in a non-binding referendum nearly a year ago that they had no interest in having the county’s taxpayers borrow upwards of $400 million to build a new Nassau Coliseum and a minor league baseball stadium in Uniondale. It would have been constructed at the 77-acre, county-owned site north of Hempstead Turnpike that is commonly known as the Nassau Hub. The August 2011 referendum had the avid support of county executive Edward Mangano and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang but was voted down by a decisive 57-43 percent margin, meaning these two entertainment and sports venues would never be built, at least not with taxpayers providing the bulk of the financing.

Despite last year’s setback, and with Islanders’ current lease at the Nassau Coliseum expiring in 2015, the Mangano administration is effectively taking the voters’ “no, we cannot” finance ambitious capital projects message and seeking aggressively a private developer who can say here’s “why we could.”

To that end, the county released on July 10 a request for qualifications (RFQ) for a Master Developer of the Nassau Hub. Responses are due no later than July 30.

The 15-page RFQ says, “Nassau County envisions a statement of qualifications (SOQ) from Respondents that include a renovated or rebuilt Coliseum to host the New York Islanders franchise, or other professional sports team, convention space, bioscience, retail and housing opportunities.” Notice the line about another professional sports team? Perhaps that is why the Islanders have repeatedly declined public comment on this RFQ.

Elsewhere in the document, the county says a key characteristic of a qualified Respondent, and three finalists will be chosen at the end of this initial process, is the Respondent’s “demonstrated financial capacity to complete the project. The financial strength of the Respondent and the ability to bring equity or to create alternative financing structures which include a mix of private and/or public funding will be carefully assessed. Respondent is expected to demonstrate that it has the capacity to arrange for the committed financing for the development of the project.”

One of the reasons I favored the Mangano administration’s proposed $400 million public investment last year was because I didn’t believe there were private firms out there who had the financial resources, interest, and patience needed to develop what is today a series of large parking lots flanked by a 40-year-old sports arena and the Long Island Marriott.

Indeed, the RFQ states that “Nassau County is not requesting developers to submit a purchase price, a comprehensive development plan, or a full development team in response to this RFQ.”

In other words, Nassau just wants a few credible organizations to step forward and express an interest in taking on this incredible challenge before the 2013 campaign for county executive gets under way. If next year comes and the Mangano administration has to say here’s “why we couldn’t” do anything on the Nassau Hub, they’ll face the same political headwinds the president is facing right now.

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