Legislature approves Coliseum revamp plan

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The Nassau County Legislature has unanimously approved a deal with a group headed by Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner to redevelop the aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Tuesday’s vote marked the latest chapter in a months-long proposal process spearheaded by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration after New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announced he would be moving his team to Ratner’s Barclays center in 2015.

“Together, we will truly transform the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum into a world-class arena that hosts exciting headliner concerts, the New York Islanders, Brooklyn Nets, New York Yankees’ clinics, a new American Hockey League team, family shows, expositions, and other programs that generate important economic activity,” Mangano said in a statement. “The Coliseum will serve as an economic generator for the region while creating new jobs and opportunities for our residents.”

The deal, which will see the Islanders return for at least six games per season and includes a revenue-sharing agreement between Ratner’s group and the county, passed with bipartisan support in the county Legislature, but not without skepticism from Democrats.

“We look forward to getting our residents back to work as quickly as possible. At this point, there are few options left and we can’t allow a vacant Coliseum to rot away,” Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) said in a statement. “We realize this ambitious proposal faces many challenges ahead, but we are hopeful for its success. ”

A Democratic party source told Blank Slate media that Democrats considered the deal a better alternative than a vacant arena, but had concerns over sufficient hiring of women and minority owned contractors and some of the deal’s loose ends. 

Ratner has pledged to bring an American Hockey League team to the Coliseum, but the franchise he is targeting – Wang’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers – would have to break its existing lease to move to Nassau County.

“The horse has kind of left the barn,” the Democratic official said. “We’re kind of taking the worst-case scenario here and making the best of it.”

Ratner and county Republicans were more enthusiastic, describing the deal as a win for the county that would draw major performers and generate millions in revenues.

“This property is vital to the future of Nassau County.  The competitive bidding process led to an exciting proposal that puts Nassau residents first,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said in a statement. “I am very pleased that the County Executive and Mr. Ratner were able to come to terms on a plan that will provide a state of the art, revenue generating entertainment destination at zero cost to the taxpayer,” 

“This vote of support signals that Nassau County is ready to move forward. We will work together to deliver a world-class Coliseum and a thriving sports, entertainment and retail center that the County and its residents deserve,” Ratner said, according to a release.

The deal, which is still subject to approval by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, would see the county receive 8 percent of gross revenue and 12.75 percent of parking revenue as part of a 34-year lease with Bruce Ratner’s group, Nassau Events Center, covering all development, maintenance, operating and utility costs.

Nassau Events Center’s proposal would also guarantee a minimum of $195 million in county revenue by the end of the lease, while a competing proposal from Madison Square Garden would have guaranteed $112 million, said Mangano – a difference caused by MSG’s lower initial minimums and lower increases in rent over time.

Nassau Events Center would begin paying rent once Wang’s lease ends in 2015. 

The accepted plan grants the county a cut of gross revenue, while MSG’s plan would have based the county’s funds on ticket sales alone, said Mangano.

The Coliseum and its property are county-owned and would remain tax free the proposal. 

Ratner’s group plans on phasing in property taxes on new construction through an agreement with the Nassau Industrial Development Agency.

Nassau Events Center beat out a competing bid from MSG in August, a decision that marked a milestone in a series of efforts to revamp the aging arena, which had stalled in recent years.

Wang’s Lighthouse Project, a $3.8 billion plan to redevelop the Nassau Hub – died 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. Wang, who owns the New York Islanders, announced that his team would leave their longtime Uniondale digs for the Barclays Center in 2015.

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. 

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.

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