Bruce Ratner wants Nassau County residents to take a fresh look at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – and he thinks his development group is the one to make that happen.
“The Coliseum has to be rebranded. It has to be,” said Ratner, the executive chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies and the developer of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Ratner, whose Barclays Center will be the new home of the New York Islanders starting in 2015, has submitted a proposal to redevelop the Coliseum from a major league hockey arena to a smaller entertainment center, which he says will host top-flight talent and be the centerpiece of a district that will include restaurants, an outdoor amphitheater and a more intimate live music club.
But for Ratner, the renovation is about more than programming or seating capacity. The Coliseum, an imposing concrete structure overlooking the Hempstead Turnpike, needs a complete aesthetic overhaul, Ratner said, to make it and planned surrounding developments inviting for both residents and performers.
“You want to rebrand it so an artist feels that its a cooler place to go,” Ratner said. “You want to go to a place that’s beautiful from outside to inside.
To achieve that, Ratner’s development team includes SHoP Architects, which designed the Barclays Center, and Gensler, an international design firm which would revamp the arena’s interior.
His group’s focus on redesigning the arena separates the proposal from competing bids by Madison Square Garden, Blumenfeld Development Group and New York Sports LLC, Ratner said. Ratner has compared the redesigned Coliseum’s importance to Nassau to the Eiffel Tower and the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“It becomes iconic instantly.” Ratner said. “I don’t know that the other proposals dealt with that.”
The new plans, presented earlier this month before a panel of 17 Nassau business leaders who will assist the county in selecting the winning proposal, are the latest effort to revamp the aging arena.
New York Islanders owner Charles Wang’s Lighthouse Project, a $3.8 billion plan to redevelop the Nassau Hub, stalled in the face of opposition from the Town of Hempstead, and Mangano’s 2011 referendum to publicly finance a new arena was rejected by voters.
Ratner, who advised the county on development possibilities for the site after Wang announced the Islanders’ departure, is partnering with Brooklyn Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation, New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys joint food service venture Legends, the entertainment company Live Nation, financial services company Guggenheim Partners and Barclays Center architectural firm SHoP. Brett Yormark, Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets CEO, has termed the group a “dream team.”
The group’s plan calls for a reduction in seating from the Coliseum’s 17,686 seating capacity to 13,000, an aesthetic revamp of the arena’s interior and concrete facade, the building of a monument to Nassau’s military veterans and more than 300 annual sports, music and entertainment events. The renovations are anticipated to require a 15-month arena closure and will cost the group about $89 million. Future development, including the rehabilitation of the existing convention center and the building of a 2,000 seat theater, a cinema and an outdoor amphitheater is projected to cost an additional $140 million.
The amphitheater would likely feature free events – part of Ratner’s plan to integrate the Coliseum into the day-to-day social lives of residents.
“It ought to be something where you can take a lunch or dinner and sit on the grass, and enjoy,” Ratner said. “It has to be for everybody.”
The $140 million in additional development could be done simultaneously with the renovation of the arena, Ratner said, depending on the wishes of the county. That work is expected to take about 18 months.
Under Ratner’s proposal, the Coliseum will change focus. Though the Islanders would play at least six regular season games per year at the arena, it would have no major league sports team – a choice that Ratner said was due to both financial constraints and practical issues with construction.
Taking the Coliseum up to the standards of modern professional sports arenas, with seating of 17,000 to 20,000 people, would take a complete rebuild and likely cost at least $350 million, Ratner said. And such a reconstruction would take the Coliseum out of commission for three years – a delay that Ratner said would be untenable.
“It’s the cost problem and the out of commission problem,” Ratner said.
Ratner did not consider redeveloping the Coliseum before the Islanders moved out, he said, as he was busy overseeing the construction of the Barclays Center.
“The last thing I was going to think about was trying to do an arena [in Nassau,]” Ratner said.
And though the county did consult with Ratner after the Islanders departure, he said his company gave verbal advice about the site and was not involved in the writing of the request for proposal that the county released in March.
“I sat down with the people in the county and said this is what works. I think you can do stuff outside, I think you should cut it down to 12, 13,000,” Ratner said. “That’s what I did.”
Ratner also dismissed the idea that his firm gained any advantage over competitors by advising the county prior to the issuing of the request for proposal.
“All three developers had been in the county for more years [than me,]” said Ratner. “They all know that Coliseum. They know the entertainment better than I do, they know the population better than I do. So that’s just silly.”
Ratner’s group is projecting economic benefits for the county should his bid be accepted – 2,500 full and part time jobs, plus 1,300 job-years of construction work during the building phase of the project.
And while Ratner’s group, like the three competing developers, have said they will not seek any public funding for the project, Ratner would not comment on whether the county’s Industrial Development Agency would offer financing, saying that was up to the county.