Nassau County and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang have reached a lease agreement for a new Nassau Coliseum that will allow the team to continue to skate on Long Island until 2045.
Under the deal, county taxpayers will receive 11.5 percent of revenue generated from all arena events, with a minimum of $14 million a year. The cost of construction, demolition and bonds will be capped at $350 million, with Wang paying anything over that amount.
“This is a giant step forward for Nassau’s economy instead of historical back steps Nassau County has endured with the loss of business,” County Executive Ed Mangano said at a press conference Wednesday at the Nassau Coliseum announcing the plan.
The agreement, however, is contingent on a vote by Nassau residents during a referendum on Aug. 1. If the vote passes, the lease agreement and bonds needed for construction must be approved by the County Legislature, and the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA)—a state watchdog panel that took control of the county’s troubled finances in January amid a $176 million projected deficit in the $2 billion budget.
“In order for us to grow here in Long Island in Nassau County we need to invest in our future,” Wang said. “And I am not blind to our struggling economy and how it has affected everyone.”
The Islanders would also pick up the tab for the cost of the referendum if it passes, according to the agreement. Just holding the vote could reportedly cost taxpayers up to $2 million—with the legality and actual meaning of such a referendum also coming under scrutiny in recent weeks.
Wang said the Islanders will start educating their fans on the new deal at a draft party on Friday and six other events scheduled in the Coliseum to help promote the Aug. 1 vote. There will also be a community outreach team to explain the terms of the agreement to the public.
“It should not appear as though anyone is trying to buy a certain outcome from this election,” Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) said of the vote. “Its my hope…that Mr. Wang would’ve agreed to pay for this election irrespective of the outcome.”
Wang said he will “hope and pray…[people] come out and vote.” He added: “We have to take a step. We cannot accept the status quo. To do nothing now means we fail.”
Mangano cited an analysis done by economic development research firm Camoin Associates that said the agreement could bring in $1.2 billion to help pay $350 million in construction costs, $433 million in debt services payment and an additional $403 million to offset property taxes.
Debt service repayments will begin in 2012 when the Islanders start building the new arena, but money won’t come in to the county through revenue sharing until 2015.
“If we don’t have a new arena,” Wang said at the press conference, the Islanders “will be faced with a very difficult decision when their lease expires in July of 2015.”
Nassau County and New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs said in a statement: “If the taxpayers believe that they will own anything other than a even higher tax bill, then I have a bridge to sell. The only thing the people of Nassau can count on as the truth is that the county is in a financial crisis but Ed Mangano and the Republicans want us to bail out a billionaire–by raising our taxes. But don’t take my word for it… what Mangano and the Republicans are promising flies in the face of what the county’s own independent budget review office says.”
Jacobs was referring to a recent statement by Steve Antonio, executive director of Nassu’s Office of Legislative Budget Review, in which he concluded the actual cost of the coliseum renovation would be closer to $1 billion and equate into a much higher shared burden for Nassau taxpayers.
“If you borrow $400 million over 30 years, the interest will bring that number to $878 million,” Antonio told the Press last week. His analysis indicates the county would be paying $29 million back each year for 30 years, of which county residents will pay $58 per household.
Mangano said he will host several public information meetings to educate the community on the agreement starting on June 29 at the East Meadow Library from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.