Incoming pols are pro-Lighthouse Project

Edward Mangano, right, with campaign manager Rob Walker,

Edward Mangano, right, with campaign manager Rob Walker, left, on Wednesday after it became official that Mangano won the race for the Nassau County executive. (December 2, 2009) Photo Credit: Michael E. Ach

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Incoming Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is surrounding himself with some vocal supporters of the Lighthouse Project, who say they're going to make the effort to redevelop the land around Nassau Coliseum a top priority come next month.

Still, the mixed-use development could end up smaller or less dense, and the developers' lease still remains uncertain, as some of those same voices say they would push to scale it down or renegotiate its lease.

The project, now pegged at $3.7 billion, has the support of the majority of the new GOP-controlled Nassau Legislature, Mangano's recent appointments and Mangano himself.

His second-in-command, state Assemb. Rob Walker (R-Hicksville), has appeared on Lighthouse-sponsored videos, lending his backing and arguing it would provide housing, jobs and tourism dollars to the region.

And he still believes that, he said in an interview.

"Economic development has to be at the forefront of correcting Nassau County's problems," Walker said.

But even he said he recognizes the project may change.

"Am I supportive of every aspect, every inch? No, but I support the overall concept," he said. "Now in this new role, we will be able to pull everybody together and make sure it gets developed."

But Jay Jacobs, the county and state Democratic chairman, argued that the new party unity between Hempstead Town - where the supervisor and most town board members are Republican - and the county could go either way.

It "certainly makes it easier to accomplish the project because nobody can blame interparty fighting," Jacobs said.

But, he added: "I think it makes it easier to do it, or kill it, one way or the other."

The new county executive has already signaled his desire to renegotiate parts of the lease that his predecessor, Democrat Tom Suozzi, worked out with Lighthouse developers Charles Wang and Scott Rechler. The lease, which will cover the 77 acres of county-owned land surrounding the Coliseum, must be approved by the county legislature.

Beyond that, some development experts think Mangano and other town and county officials will use the changing of the guard as an opportunity to step back and rethink the development of the entire space known as the Nassau hub. It's possible, sources said, that such an evaluation could lead to a rethinking of the project's scale, density and style.

And if Wang and Rechler don't agree to the zoning eventually approved by the town or the property lease, it could mean entirely new ideas, new developers and new plans.

"I see the heads getting together to determine what's the critical path, the short course to the hub redevelopment," said Michael White, executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Council. "Maybe it's not the Lighthouse as envisioned by Charles Wang. But there's an asset in the Coliseum and the Islanders; there's an asphalt jungle and it really needs to be serving the community better."

But others think the existing project will move forward, especially with Walker as Mangano's chief deputy. More open communication between town and county officials, they said, should help too.

"Having folks all rowing in the same direction should yield a positive result," said Eric Alexander, who heads Vision Long Island, a group that advocates "smart growth."

Alexander said he'd like to see answers from the town before April.

But Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray said the town's reviews are "separate and distinct from those under the county's purview."

"We definitely would continue a dialogue on issues of mutual concern with the new administration and with the legislature," she added.

Mangano, meanwhile, said he hopes to work with Hempstead whenever possible.

"I will . . . offer any assistance they would require from Nassau County that could possibly speed up the process," Mangano said recently. He said his communication style differs from that of Suozzi, adding: "Hopefully, mine is more effective in this area."

The likely result will be a scaled-down project, according to Martin Cantor, who heads Dowling College's Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute.

Indeed, Mangano isn't ruling out that possibility, pointing to a Nov. 22 Newsday story that indicated other developers were interested in the property.

"I am pleased to learn that should this project, for whatever reason, not go forward, there are options," he said. "If necessary, we will explore those options."

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