It’s back to the drawing board for a plan on what to do with the aging Nassau County Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum and the surrounding 77 acres in Uniondale.
The day after voters rejected a referendum proposing the county borrow $400 million to rebuild the arena and build a minor league baseball park nearby, County Executive Ed Mangano issued a request for proposals for privately financed redevelopment of the prime real estate.
Eager to find a plan that will keep the NHL’s New York Islanders on Long Island after their lease expires in 2015, Mangano set an 11-day deadline for ideas: Friday, Aug. 12.
“There’s no time to waste we must move forward with economic development and job growth opportunities for our county,” Mangano said at a news conference in his Mineola office. “My intention is to keep the Islanders there and still pursue a sports and entertainment destination.”
Nassau residents reject Coliseum plan
The open call came as details were still emerging about the unofficial election results that showed 56 percent of voters against a publicly financed new Coliseum and 43 percent for it. Roughly 17 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls, elections officials said.
And because the proposal did not pass, Islanders owner Charles Wang will not be picking up the estimated $2 million tab to hold the mid-summer referendum—an offer he made if voters said “yes.”
But William Biamonte, the Democratic Nassau County Board of Elections commissioner, said Wang would only have paid that bill after the borrowing was approved by both the county legislature and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state-appointed fiscal watchdog that took over the county budget earlier this year.
NIFA issued a statement Tuesday saying it hoped the Mangano administration would switch its focus to closing projected budget gaps now that the vote is over.
Mangano maintains that development in the so-called Nassau Hub, where the Coliseum sits, is central to creating jobs and tax revenue needed to close the deficit.
Wang, whose 2003 plan for a multibillion-dollar private development of the property foundered amid community opposition, was expected to issue a statement on Wednesday, a team spokeswoman said.
After the vote Monday night, Wang said he was heartbroken but did not want to make any immediate pronouncements about the team’s future. He promised to honor the team’s lease through 2015.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Tuesday that the league would work with the Islanders “to explore whatever options still may be available in light of what obviously is not a positive development. Our goal is for the team to remain on Long Island and we still hope that objective can be realized.”
The Association for a Better Long Island, a real estate group that opposed the referendum, issued a conciliatory statement after Mangano’s announcement.
“He has appropriately challenged the private sector to present to him innovative ideas and options that achieve the strategic objective of a new coliseum and synergistic development,” said ABLI board member Vincent Polimeni. “We accept that challenge.”
Because Wang has said he would have to consider his options for the team’s future should the referendum fail, some have speculated he could either sell the franchise or move to another city. The computer software mogul said last week he has lost nearly $240 million since buying the team 11 years ago.
Some have suggested the team could move to the new basketball arena being built in Brooklyn. One Suffolk County politician lobbied Wang last week to consider moving to eastern Long Island.
Veteran hockey broadcaster and writer Stan Fischler said Monday’s vote is not the final chapter in the Islanders’ story in Nassau County.
“There are reasons to be optimistic about them staying,” Fischler told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, citing cities that said no to new arenas and stadiums only to get them later.
“What happened last night is not going to be the Great Wall,” he said. “It’s an obstacle that they’ll surmount some way or other.”
Despite having the lowest average attendance and finishing with the second fewest wins in the league last season, he predicted better results in the future.
“The team is one of the most promising teams in the NHL. You can ask any hockey expert. They’ve got a young core,” he said. “It’s very easy to say they’re going to leave and go to Brooklyn or they’re going to leave and go to Flushing and Suffolk County. But this is a prime spot that they’re in now.”
-With Associated Press.