Brown: Work to get the best Coliseum deal

The Nassau Coliseum. (July 6, 2011) The Nassau Coliseum. (July 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Attention, everyone fighting over Nassau's quest to build a new Coliseum: This isn't a hockey game. Which means there should be no champ -- and certainly no chump -- when the dust settles.

For more than a decade, through three county executives, there's been attempts to build a new arena and develop 77 acres of prime real estate masquerading as a parking lot. What's changed?

There's recognition of the imperative -- for the county's economic well being -- that the lot be plowed under.

There's also recognition that a region more populous than 19 states (that's also paying some of the highest property taxes in the United States) deserves a major sports franchise and world-class entertainment center.

That sea change ought to coalesce into a demand that something -- the right thing -- replace nothing.

Yesterday, the Long Island Association came out supporting Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's plan for the site. The LIA believes that enough is enough with Long Island's not being able to get anything significant done.

The LIA's position appears to fly in the face of opposition from the Association for a Better Long Island, which has tagged a proposed agreement between Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang a bust. The proposal's also drawn flack from residents balking at paying more property taxes to fund the deal.

Kevin Law, the LIA's president, said Long Island sorely needs the project. "It is important for the economic and the quality of life for our region," he said. Law, who received a copy of the proposed agreement between Nassau and Wang about a week ago, has yet to analyze the whole proposal.

"We're not saying we agree with every i and every t," Law said. "We're not saying this is the only way. If there can be improvements made from a real estate point of view, if somebody has a better idea, we're open to it."

Over at ABLI, which came out early and hard against the proposal, executive director Desmond Ryan made it crystal clear that he supports development on the site.

"Long Island needs this," he said. Ryan's issue is with the guts of the proposed agreement."This is a real estate deal and it needs to be looked at as a real estate deal," he said. "I've been saying that until I'm blue in the face."

Law and Ryan are both right. The property must be redeveloped. And the ongoing debate ought to get messy -- real messy -- when it comes to ironing out the details. But this should be a fight toward a common "goal," rather than a competition.

Three times over the decades, Nassau set out on similar paths, with questionable results. In the 1980s, Nassau lost big time when it awarded below-market sweetheart deals on Mitchel Field leases to politically connected lawyers. The scandal cost Nassau $3 billion in revenue.

That same decade, the county privatized Nassau's art museum in a 99-year, ironclad deal that leaves the county responsible for maintenance and improvements -- among them selling bonds to build a new museum (which isn't going to happen anytime soon).

In the early 2000s, Nassau worked hard to fashion a contract to share revenue with the Cradle of Aviation Museum -- only to turn around five years later with a rescue plan that included forgiving $2.5 million in debt.

This time, this deal must be different. Which is why every detail, every tendril of the proposal ought to be bared (and, no, posting more than 80 pages online doesn't meet that requirement). There must be debate, discussion. And there's always room for improvement. The best result? No champs. No chumps.

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