With both options and time running out for a plan to replace the aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and keep the Islanders on Long Island, local lawmakers announced Wednesday they’re asking the public to approve the latest revised plan for the arena’s future.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said the county will hold a referendum Aug. 1 seeking voter approval to float $400 million in bonds to replace the coliseum in Uniondale—$50 million of which would be used to build a minor league baseball stadium nearby. Mangano also announced he’s revised his proposal to seek an Indian gaming casino at the coliseum and instead is joining efforts to have the Shinnecock Indian Nation build a casino at the Belmont Park Racetrack in Elmont.
“We’re asking the taxpayers if they wish to invest in the county,” Mangano said as a group of Islanders fans and union construction workers chanted “build it now” in the background. Should the referendum pass, Mangano said construction would begin in 2012 and the new arena would open in 2015, ensuring the team would have a home there through 2045.
There would be a revenue sharing agreement with the Islanders and the baseball team to ensure county taxpayers would be repaid for the loan, the county executive said.
Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation board of trustees, said he is excited about the Belmont proposal but cautioned that negotiations are ongoing.
Shortly after the announcement, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state fiscal watchdog panel that recently took over the county’s finances, issued a statement that it “is deeply concerned” about the proposal, “its fiscal implications for the county” and the fact that “there was no consultation with NIFA.”
By law, NIFA must approve all Nassau borrowing, including “the $400 million in new debt.” In addition, NIFA reiterated it is still waiting for Mangano to release details on his plan to close a $176 million deficit, “which must be evaluated in the context of the county’s fiscal crisis, the wage freeze on county employees and the reductions in services to county residents.”
Mangano insisted NIFA was kept in the loop. “The county executive spoke with Chairman [Ronald] Stack last evening to inform him of this economic development and job creation plan,” Brian Nevin, a Mangano spokesman, said in a statement. “Once NIFA fully understands the potential of this plan, they will come to realize the tremendous economic benefits and job growth opportunity it offers to our residents.”
The county legislature’s minority leader, Legis. Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), said in a statement: “While I support reasonable development that fosters job creation and economic growth, I want to fully address the impact of an additional $400 million in borrowing.”
At the announcement, officials did not mention by name The Lighthouse Project, a failed $3.8 billion mixed use development proposal that Charles Wang, the owner of the Islanders, had been seeking to build on the 77 acres surrounding the coliseum over the past decade.
Although that plan was all but officially declared dead, Wang maintained that he has his heart set on keeping the team on LI—despite repeated prior threats to move the team if a deal to renovate the coliseum could not be worked out before the team’s lease for the coliseum expires in 2015.
“Our commitment to Long Island has never wavered,” Wang said from the stage set up on center ice. Asked if his experience with the prior proposal worried him about the new plan, Wang said he is not looking backward. “This isn’t like 10 years ago,” he said.
After Wang spoke, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray expressed her support for both the Belmont plan and the new coliseum proposal. But some fans booed her for ushering in the Lighthouse Project’s demise after Wang refused to accept the town board’s insistence on a scaled down version of the development.
“I’m an Islanders fan, I’m not a Rangers fan,” she told the crowd.
Islanders fans in attendance for the news conference were excited to hear their team may be getting a new home after all.
Patrick Dowd, a 50-year-old Bay Shore resident and longtime season ticket holder, held up a sign that read: “Fans Win, Wang Wins, Long Island Wins” while wearing the No. 5 jersey of former captain Denis Potvin.
“This is just great news,” he said.
-With Spencer Rumsey