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Feature Stories

Build It And They Will…

As development plans swirl around the county, with visions that include a renovated Coliseum in Uniondale, a soccer stadium in Elmont and a bio-tech neighborhood around Garden City’s Museum Row, I hear something in the background. Could it be the ominous kettledrum of a movie soundtrack?

I’m all for development, redevelopment and new ideas, but the more politicians get involved and take the reins of something that is supposed to be a financial success, the more I hear the beat of the kettledrum get faster and faster, until, suddenly, there’s a scream.

So, when I hear proposals, plans and boosterish bellowing from our elected officials, I have to ask, “What do they know?”

After all, if they’re so smart, how come Brooklyn has become the sports and entertainment capital of our fish-shaped island? Our failure to make the Coliseum into a Barclay’s Center-caliber venue was, to put it mildly, a missed opportunity. Now, County Executive Ed Mangano could be right—our best bet might be to downsize the Coliseum and turn it into the perfect setting for smaller shows and minor-league sports. But I feel a heavy dose of shoulda/coulda/woulda in knowing that big-time pro sports are gone for good.

On the other hand, the county is in no position to blow it out with a big, state-of-the-art complex while chanting, “Build it and they will come.”

Because they might not come.

Proof? Consider Revel.

This $2.4-billion casino hotel was pitched as the salvation of Atlantic City, New Jersey. The one-time capital of East Coast gambling had become threadbare, as Indian casinos throughout the region lured the high-rollers, and the City By The Boardwalk was a destination just for cost-conscious, slot-playing day-trippers. Although there was — and is — The Borgata, a Las Vegas-style luxury property across town, the mantra was that AC needed a hotel with over-the-top luxury and style. Enter Revel.

Begun in the boom days of 2007, construction stopped in 2009 when the recession made it tough to finance such ridiculously ambitious projects. Fearing that the partially finished building would stand forever as a testament to Atlantic City’s botched rebirth, Gov. Chris Christie and pols on both sides of the aisle jumped into the breech, seeking new investors and committing to hundreds of millions of dollars in tax reimbursements.

I was there when the finished resort opened a year ago. I stepped onto the escalator that goes up seemingly forever to the casino, with a view of the Atlantic out front, and glistening lights all around. My first thought wasn’t about the grandeur, but the stupidity.

Only politicians—and huge Wall Street firms that make zillions underwriting state and local bonds—would step in to complete a project that couldn’t get conventional financing because it had “Loser” written all over it. The recession was a wake-up call that told independent investors that South Jersey didn’t need a no-smoking, no-buffet, no-cheap slots Neverland where the 1,399 rooms start at $395 a night.

Needless to say, within a year, Revel was in bankruptcy court, restructuring its finances. Chances are, this is only the first of many such visits.

Now, as Revel still struggles, the politicians have moved on, touting new “economic development” projects around the Garden State. The taxpayers, of course, bear the bruises.

Back here in Nassau County, I’m optimistic. Hoping for development of…well, something wonderful. Though I can’t help but hear the kettledrum.