Coliseum makeover seems worth waiting for

Artist's rendering of developer Bruce Ratner's plans for

Artist's rendering of developer Bruce Ratner's plans for the Nassau Coliseum site. (May 2, 2013) (Credit: Handout)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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It will take two years -- and the certainty of financing -- before shovels hit the ground around Nassau Coliseum.

Two years.

Which isn't much, considering that Nassau's been trying to find a way to bolster the aging arena's fortunes for two decades.


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County lawmakers -- in a rare, unanimous vote by Republicans and Democrats -- approved a contract with Forest City Ratner Cos. for a $229 million project that includes renovating the Coliseum.

The outside will be painted gray; the flooring will get some carpeting; and the arena itself will have fewer seats.

Outside, where there is now a parking lot, there will be considerably more action. Among the amenities: Shops, a bowling alley and a stretch of green -- think lawn, not amphitheater, developer Bruce Ratner told lawmakers -- where people can gather for music and other entertainment.

Ratner's plan is considerably less visionary than one proposed more than a decade ago by developer and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang.

Wang's dream was to build a 60-story tower modeled after the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

His goal was to lift Nassau's aspirations, to challenge the region's culture of NIMBY, which -- even as the nation's economy was booming -- was limiting Long Island's growth.

It would take a decade before Nassau swung around to Wang's view, fueled by desperation caused by the region's slow recovery from the Great Recession.

And the sting of Long Island losing its last professional team, Wang's Islanders, to Brooklyn.

County Executive Edward Mangano, to his credit, moved quickly after Wang -- justifiably frustrated after a decade of obstacles -- announced his intention to move the hockey team.

Mangano brought in Ratner to advise him, and solicited bids from other developers. Ratner's proposal promised the most revenue to the cash-strapped county.

Potential issues?

There are many, including, as some lawmakers raised during a hearing on the contract Monday, the question of whether Ratner can secure necessary financing.

Even so, there was no way lawmakers were going to vote the contract down.

Yes, it's close to the election, for Mangano and lawmakers. And what politician wouldn't want to be part of a contract to finally -- finally! -- renovate the Coliseum.

But there also seemed to be a sense of excitement, an eagerness to accomplish a goal so long denied.

It was Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) who gave the best sense of the moment, telling Ratner that he was asking residents to take a "leap of faith" that the development would come through.

The renovation of the Coliseum -- and especially the new development outside of it -- would be something new for Nassau.

Something exciting, which -- like Wang's dream of a lighthouse -- could be the catalyst for something bigger, something more.

It's been a long time since the county -- which once had some of the nation's finest parks and one of its first newer suburban hospitals -- dreamed big.

Too long.