It was a promising sign to see several firms answer Nassau County’s call for a master developer to create a workable plan for the Nassau Coliseum. Folks should credit County Executive Mangano, one year after a failed referendum, to continue the drive to make the HUB a workable project. The good news is, at least one of the respondents is committed to both keeping the Islanders and creating a mixed use destination that has been long promised.
You need a scorecard to keep track of the plans for the Coliseum site and surrounding HUB area. Three notable plans for the broader HUB over the last 15 years - 1998’s under Tom Gulotta, 2005’s under Tom Suozzi and now another infrastructure plan produced by the Mangano administration. There have been two plans proposed over the last ten years for the Coliseum site: the privately financed Lighthouse proposal which failed to secure complete rezoning with the Town of Hempstead and the Coliseum plan that failed at the ballot box last August where Nassau County voters clearly did not have the appetite to publicly finance the construction of the project.
Throughout all of these plans the one that generated the most support was the Lighthouse project both in Hofstra and News 12 polls and at the two public hearings on the application. The selling points of that proposal were a strong tax base, job development, a mixed use destination and keeping the Islanders with a new Coliseum. In addition, the developer held over 200 community meetings on the project.
So here we are 10-15 years later and some of the same challenges remain.
The project lacks infrastructure dollars to, at a minimum, improve the Meadowbrook Parkway, create an express bus system to the Hempstead and Mineola train stations and address wastewater treatment upgrades to Cedar Creek plant. Over the last 10 years, previous administrations have failed to apply for federal or state funds to address these basic needs resulting in lost revenue from stimulus and other rounds of funding.
The county is addressing this funding gap by applying for economic development financing with the state. The newly passed Federal Transportation bill, MAP 21, provides an opportunity for capital funding. The NYS DOT can rearrange lower priority projects and focus on investing in this project. Tax Increment Financing has been suggested as a potential financing mechanism and a bill exists in the legislature that can make this approach more palatable.
Partisan political discord has been an endless stumbling block. Hours after the County Executive released an RFQ for a Master Developer County democrats released their own proposal. Past plans for the HUB have been fraught with pointless political squabbles contributing nothing and only adding to the chaos of planning a large scale project. Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford held a bipartisan hearing this year that focused on lessons from past planning at the Coliseum site. This spirit of bipartisanship is a welcome step to overcome the political malaise that exists.
In order for the Islanders to stay and to realize the promise of mixed use development:
1) The County should pick a master developer willing to keep the Islanders and develop a mixed use town center. One would hope that the selected firm has the desire and temperament to work with Islanders owner Charles Wang who is still the key decision maker.
2) Elected officials should take a bipartisan pledge. Local officials need to refrain from partisanship and finger pointing through the remainder of this process as a unified development approach is needed. There will be temptations in an election year to make this project a political football and while that may be useful for individual political careers it could damage the process.
3) The county needs to secure federal and state funds. There have been applications for NYS support for the HUB over the last two years with a most recent proposal for $10 million to Empire State Development. More resources will be needed including a concerted effort to bring federal dollars into the site.
4) The Master Developer will need to keep the public engaged. Don’t take past support for granted. Constant outreach to neighbors and local businesses are critical towards a successful project.
Henry Ford reminds us that “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” It will be the opportunity of a Master Developer to quickly learn the lessons from the many failures throughout the years in planning this area and turn it into a success. We should all support this renewed effort.
Eric Alexander is executive director of Vision Long Island, a Smart Growth planning organization.