Much-anticipated plans to renovate the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the surrounding area in Uniondale recently took several steps toward starting construction in August, but the project has also hit some snags.
Forest City Ratner submitted its plans Tuesday to the Town of Hempstead, where officials said they expect a “prompt” review. That was a day after Nassau County legislators amended their 34-year lease with the developer, allowing it to add $30 million in foreign investments, upping the project cost to $260 million. But, critics argue that the builder isn’t investing enough in the surrounding community—all of which comes as the company and its partner on the project, Blumenfeld Development, sued each other over their differing visions for the site in recent weeks.
“There’s nothing in those lawsuits that would affect any of the decision making,” Bruce Ratner, chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies, told reporters Tuesday during a news conference at Hempstead Town Hall. He declined to discuss specifics of the claims.
This week’s developments comes after the New York Islanders played their last home game of the regular season at the aging arena—the only home they have ever known—before they move to Ratner’s Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who also attended the press conference, reiterated his hope that the Islanders would later return to “The Old Barn,” as fans call the coliseum.
Conceptual master plan renderings submitted to the town offered a glimpse of things to come at the coliseum. The plans, drawn up by Patchogue-based Baldassano Architecture, include two new hotels, four office buildings, five entertainment facilities besides the arena itself and seven retail structures. The new buildings would rise on the 91 acres surrounding the coliseum, much of which is a vast parking lot, with parking garages making up for the lost spaces.
Two of the proposed office buildings were set aside for planned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center facilities that Mangano first pitched in his state of the county address last month. Ratner would not say what exactly the entertainment facilities were until leases are signed.
Shortly before holding the news conference, the Hempstead Town Board unanimously approved a measure declaring itself the lead agency in reviewing the master plan and the environmental review. Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said that review should be streamlined thanks to work already begun before “a previous development proposal stalled.” She was referring to The Lighthouse, a multi-billion-dollar mixed-use development that outgoing Islanders owner Charles Wang had tried to build, but scrapped after Hempstead town officials said he needed to scale it back.
The celebratory mood surrounding the coliseum Tuesday was a departure from the day before, when Uniondale activists rallied at the Nassau County Legislature meeting to demand that Ratner agree to a formal community benefit agreement to invest in the neighborhood impacted most by the massive construction project. Forest City Ratner officials countered that Uniondale residents will be prioritized for the thousands of construction and permanent jobs created, community groups will get free tickets to events and the redevelopment itself will stimulate the local economy.
Before the legislature approved the amended lease by a vote of 17-2—with Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) voting against—Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said: “This discussion doesn’t end today.”