Nassau Sets Referendum for New Coliseum Loan

Mangano and Wang
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum home of the the New York Islanders NHL hockey team is shown in Uniondale, N.Y., Wednesday, May 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Nassau County lawmakers have scheduled an Aug. 1 referendum seeking taxpayer approval for $400 million in borrowing to rebuild Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and build a $50 million minor league baseball park nearby.

The measure passed 11-7, mostly along party lines, in the GOP-controlled legislature with Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) joining Republicans in approving the summer schedule. Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) missed the vote.

Islanders fans who packed the legislative chamber inside the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative and Executive Building in Mineola applauded the move. County Executive Ed Mangano signed the bill immediately afterward with Islanders owner Charles Wang by his side.

“A new sports arena and minor league ballpark are critical to advancing Nassau’s job generating economic development plan,” Mangano said.  “With passage of this legislation and approval by residents, the county will take a giant step forward with creating a world-class sports-entertainment destination center.”

Mangano had proposed asking for voter approval to float the bonds so that the Islanders would have a new home by 2015, when their current Coliseum lease expires. Wang has said his hockey players would skate somewhere else if they don’t have a Nassau venue by then, but he committed to staying through 2045 if his team does get a new arena.

“The team belongs on Long Island, this is my home, I want to do it, I want to get it done,” Wang told the Press. “It’s a little bit strange to have a partisan-type vote. I wish people would just say ‘let’s look at what’s best for Long Island.'”

Whether the referendum passes or not, the borrowing still must be approved by the Nassau County Legislature and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state watchdog panel that took over the county’s troubled finances amid a $176 million projected deficit in the $2 billion budget.

NIFA board members and Democrats on the county legislature have been skeptical of the plan since details have yet to be released regarding a proposed revenue sharing agreement that Mangano said would ensure that taxpayers are reimbursed for the loan. The county and Wang are still in negotiation about those finer points.

Mangano said the legislature will have the contract agreement by mid-June, to give county residents enough time to look over the details of the the plan before a vote.

“I think the voters need to know on August 1…what they will be voting for,” said Legis. Robert Troiano (D-Wesbury).

Islanders owner Charles Wang and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano

The measure to hold the bond vote passed despite attempts from Democratic lawmakers to move the election to the same day as the September primaries or on Election Day in November, which would save the county money. According to some lawmakers, a special election could run more than $1 million.

Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) said an Election Day vote would not “adversely affect the ability to get this project moving.” He added that “if its done on August 1 we’re not talking about starting work…until next spring.”

Republicans argued that constructing a replacement to the aging arena in Uniondale needs to happen without further delay and that having this bond vote on its own ballot in August, when other issues aren’t competing for attention, would give lawmakers a clear understanding of the residents’ sentiments on the Coliseum question.

Local business leaders have also urged action on the proposal as well, arguing the county needs jobs and cannot afford to lose the only professional sports team on LI.

Either way, the Islanders are still a long way from dropping a puck in a brand new facility in Nassau.