With the swing of a sledgehammer crashing through a ceramic-tiled ticket booth wall, officials marked the ceremonial groundbreaking of the long-awaited, $261-million renovation of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale on Thursday.
Lawmakers, union leaders and other officials mostly stayed on script in saying good things are worth waiting for and not mentioning a plan took so long to finalize that the NHL’s New York Islanders skated from the 43-year-old arena—the only home the team had known.
“I’ve never seen a project go so smoothly,” said developer Bruce Ratner, majority owner of Forrest City Ratner, who lured the Islanders to his Barclays Center in Brooklyn before his subsidiary, Nassau Events Center (NEC), landed a 34-year lease at the coliseum.
A decade ago, Charles Wang, the Islanders’ part-owner, proposed The Lighthouse Project, a $3.7-billion plan to renovate the arena as well as build commercial and residential space on the surrounding 77 acres, but the idea fizzled five years ago. Then in 2011, voters rejected a referendum to authorize a proposed $400 million in borrowing to rebuild the coliseum. The current plan to give the arena a facelift didn’t solidify until after the team decided to move.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who thinks the team will eventually return to the coliseum—despite the team signing a 25-year lease at the Barclays Center—reiterated that the Isles will still play six games at the coliseum after its reopening, scheduled for next year.
Not present at the ceremony was Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray—fresh off losing her GOP bid for Nassau County District Attorney—who Islanders fans blame for the team leaving after her administration asked Wang to downsize his Lighthouse plan. He instead abandoned the idea.
“It’s tough to get big projects done here on Long Island,” said Long Island Association President Kevin Law. “It’s easy to give up.”
He then sought to ease concerns over recent reports that Onexim, a Russian company led by Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, recently became majority owner of Ratner’s NEC. Law noted that National Grid is British owned and Cablevision recently announced that it is being purchased by a European telecommunications giant. He said LI should be thankful for, not fearful of attracting foreign investors.
After recapping the litany of events that NEC plans to host at the coliseum, Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark teased that Friday “we plan to make a major announcement about a future basketball team that will permanently play at the coliseum.”