Entertainment, sports and the Coliseum

The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. (March The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. (March 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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The vision of a bustling, year-round hub in the middle of Nassau County that generates jobs and tax revenue, and projects an attractive image of Long Island, seems simple enough -- at least on paper.

But the four proposals to get there with the Nassau Coliseum property involve different paths, and there's no clear model to replicate.

Unlike sports and entertainment projects that have been built in Los Angeles, Kansas City and other cities -- most of which have major-league sports teams -- Nassau is a suburban venue. Its 1.3 million residents live next to one of the world's leading cities and myriad enticements for entertainment dollars.

Planners, sports and entertainment experts and local officials agree that redevelopment of the 77-acre Coliseum site is essential to the region's future, particularly to attracting young families to settle on Long Island.

But they part company on whether the complex can succeed without a major-league sports franchise as its anchor -- or whether the restaurants, shows and other entertainment components are enough for the project to succeed.

Bill DiCosimo, chairman of the music and entertainment industries program at Syracuse University, said the diversity of entertainment and recreation options proposed for the Coliseum should make the project a success, regardless of the team that plays there.

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Nassau residents have plenty of options in the five boroughs if they want to see pro sports, but few entertainment venues that would compare to the proposed Coliseum development.

"This would be something different and unique and if branded right could be very successful," DiCosimo said. "It could have a great impact both socially and economically."

But Wayne McDonnell, sports business professor at New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, said while he supports "the idea of updating Nassau Coliseum, I find it very hard for it to be extremely successful if they don't have a professional sports anchor tenant."

Plans lack major leagues

None of the four proposals for redeveloping the Coliseum includes a full-time major-league team now that the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn's Barclays Center in 2015.

Forest City Ratner Cos. are proposing a $229 million, 13,000-seat renovated arena, with a minor-league hockey team and six regular or preseason Islanders games per season. The plan includes a 2,500-seat outdoor amphitheater, a 2,000-seat theater, restaurants and bars.

The Madison Square Garden Co.'s $250 million plan calls for a renovated 14,500-seat arena with at least one of three teams: minor-league hockey, a developmental league basketball team or the WNBA Liberty. An entertainment complex would feature restaurants and sports bars.

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Syosset-based Blumenfeld Development Group would spend $180 million to demolish the existing Coliseum and build a new arena with between 9,000 and 12,000 seats that would host minor-league hockey and concerts.

Bayville-based New York Sports LLC would spend $60 million to $90 million to renovate the interior and downsize the arena to 8,000 to 10,000 seats, bringing in college lacrosse and a minor-league hockey team.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano says he will make a decision by July 15, after receiving an advisory recommendation from his 17-member business council.

LI as a destination

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Joel Maxcy, vice president of the International Association of Sports Economists, a group that analyzes the financing of sports, said new entertainment venues built around sports arenas in cities including Kansas City, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Philadelphia, have become popular regional destinations.

For example, Kansas City's Power & Light District, an entertainment complex, is located just west of the Sprint Center arena, which hosts concerts and college sports events.

The Power & Light District -- built in 2007 by the Cordish Company, a Baltimore firm that is partnering with MSG on its Coliseum bid -- is a nine-block entertainment and retail complex. At the center of the $850 million district is Kansas City Live!, comprised of two floors of bars, restaurants, clubs and an outdoor plaza used for concerts.

The district revitalized the city's downtown area and helped spark housing construction that has attracted about 20,000 new residents, said city spokesman Danny Rotert.

However, the project so far has failed to meet financial projections.

Kansas City directed a percentage of the entertainment district's sales and property taxes to pay back nearly $300 million in bonds it issued for the project. But the tax revenue dedicated to pay the $20 million in annual debt service has consistently fallen short, forcing the city to chip in about $10 million a year, Rotert said. The economic downturn and millions of dollars in unexpected infrastructure projects have caused the shortfall, Rotert said.

Nonetheless, "we look at the big picture," Rotert said. "If you look back and see what the area was like before, it's worth a significant amount to see what we've accomplished downtown."

The nearby Sprint Center, also built in 2007, has 19,000 seats. It has hosted the NCAA college basketball tournament, attracts top concert acts such as Madonna, Elton John and Billy Joel, and was home to an arena league football team -- but has no major league sports team.

Pollstar, a concert tour industry trade publication, ranked Sprint as the third-busiest arena in the United States in the first quarter of 2013, and No. 11 worldwide based on ticket sales for live entertainment performances.

The Sprint Center sold 143,500 tickets during the period. The U.S. arenas that did better -- the American Airlines Arena in Miami, which was no. 7 worldwide, and the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., No. 9 -- sold 190,200 tickets and 149,500 tickets respectively. The No. 1 venue in the world was the 02 arena in London, with sales of 447,000.

Pollstar does not consider sporting events in its analysis.

L.A. Live -- a $2.5 billion entertainment district in downtown Los Angeles -- dwarfs the size and scope of the Kansas City project and the Nassau proposals. But experts say it presents a road map for an expanded Uniondale sports and entertainment complex.

Reviving downtown L.A.

The 5.6-million-square-foot complex, part of a major effort to revive the city's downtown, features the Nokia Theatre, where the American Idol finale was filmed last month, along with clubs, restaurants, a museum, hotels and upscale condominium apartments.

The project, developed and run by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, opened in 2007 and is located across from the Staples Center, where the NBA Lakers and Clippers and the NHL Kings play.

AEG initially had trouble filling the luxury condos, but now about 80 percent of the 224 units are sold, according to news reports.

Los Angeles officials also say L.A. Live has brought jobs and entertainment options to a once-underused area. Before the construction of the Staples Center and L.A. Live, about 4,000 people lived in the downtown area, but some 50,000 people live there today, according to the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

New revenue from the project allowed the city to improve local transportation and to construct a new police station on the complex.

An overall tally of tax revenue that Los Angeles has received from L.A. Live was not available, and city officials did not return calls for comment.

Sports and entertainment experts are divided about prospects for the new Nassau Coliseum.

Scott Rosner, a sports business professor at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, questions whether a renovated Coliseum could lure visitors from New York City and beyond who already have a host of entertainment options -- including professional sports -- at their fingertips.

"If people outside of Nassau County came to this project and spent their dollars that would be something different," Rosner said. "But there's already a lot of competition in the marketplace for outside dollars."

"Minor-league teams are not going to drive people to come out to Nassau," said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist and professor at Smith College in Massachusetts. "They're not draws."

Others say the Coliseum proposals could succeed without a professional sports franchise.

"If an arena becomes an entertainment destination, you don't necessarily need a professional sports franchise," said Maxcy, who teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia. "As long as you pair it with other venues and entertainment options, it can still be successful."

A vibrant arena and entertainment district could attract college sports tournaments, said Ken Kaser, a professor of entertainment and venue management at the University of Houston. Such events would bring people to the entertainment complex, Kaser said.

"If done right, and marketed correctly, it could be very successful," said Kaser, author of a textbook on sports and entertainment management.

Robert Trumpbour, a communications professor at Penn State Altoona and the author of "The New Cathedrals: Politics and Media in the History of Stadium Construction," said the development should be viable if it targets top entertainment attractions.

"They need to maximize the bookings and revenue out there," said Trumpbour, a Queens native. "With poor management, it will be a big white elephant sitting in the middle of nowhere."

Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp, a Chicago sports business consulting firm, said the financial success of the project is important, but the potential quality of life benefits are key.

"It's part of what makes a community," said Ganis, a Queens native. "It's necessary, and frankly vital, to have a vibrant, fully formed community."

With Randi F. Marshall

and Paul LaRocco

The Dolan family holds controlling interest in MSG, and owns Cablevision, Newsday's parent company.

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