As Nassau County picked a builder to develop the nearly vacant 77 acres of the Nassau Hub in Uniondale, County Executive Edward Mangano is also seeking advice from developer Bruce Ratner, who built the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, on the future of the aging Coliseum.
At a Mineola news conference Tuesday, Ratner -- who wooed the Islanders to play in Brooklyn -- said he will spend the first half of 2013 assessing the Coliseum. He said he will see if it can be transformed into a competitive, more viable arena, through better marketing, potential sponsorships and possible renovations. He said he is doing the study for free.
Mangano tasked Donald Monti, who heads Renaissance Downtowns in Plainview, with overseeing the development of the rest of the 77-acre site. Monti, who had applied to become the site's master developer through the county's Request for Qualifications process, will partner with RXR Realty's Scott Rechler, who previously tried to develop the same site with Islanders owner Charles Wang.
Monti said he hopes to break ground next year. He said that besides entertainment, he envisions a research and development facility on the site. And he said he was "ecstatic" to work with Ratner.
"This is going to be a turning point for Long Island," he said in an interview Tuesday. "I like to see myself as the person who is driving the process . . . and keeping everything on track."
County officials provided no details on who would pay for a revamped arena or how much any renovations would cost. Ratner noted that using revenue bonds worked at Barclays. Mangano said revenue from the rest of the development could be a source of funds.
"Everything's on the table," Mangano said. "This is a public-private partnership and it's on county property. But our vision is not to float bonds."
For his part, Ratner said he didn't expect razing the arena would be an option. He also suggested that a full-size arena like the Coliseum wouldn't work without a professional sports team.
"An area of 2.5 million people really needs an entertainment facility," Ratner said in an interview.
Developers and other officials suggested that a venue earmarked for college sports, preseason games or minor league teams, in addition to other entertainment options, could have 8,000 to 12,000 seats. The Coliseum currently has more than 16,000 seats. A smaller arena, officials said, would require fewer parking spaces. Structured parking, which can cost up to $25,000 per space, has been an issue in the past.
The Nassau legislature's minority leader, Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), said a "much smaller" Coliseum could work if it were focused on family shows, conventions and concerts.
Sources told Newsday that Nets or Islanders training facilities may also be potential uses of the arena's space.
Business leaders noted Rechler's expertise and experience may jump-start the project. Rechler, who will join a team that includes Jones Lang LaSalle and the Spector Group, said he wanted a development plan that would not become mired in the approval process.
"I'm going into it open-minded," Rechler said. "We have to be stewards to make sure the right thing is built here."
Mangano said the county will ultimately determine what is built.
"No one gets exclusivity here," he said. "It's our vision. Don [Monti] is implementing our vision."
Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said he hopes the university will be included in the process. Rabinowitz, the co-vice chairman of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, said the $2 million in funds the council recommended for the Hub is dependent on a solid proposal that includes financing.
Kevin Law, Rabinowitz's co-vice chair on the council, said the county should study whether keeping the Coliseum is the "highest and best use" for the property.
But Mangano said taking down the arena is not a likely option.
"This is a process to avoid a darkened Coliseum," Mangano said. "That's something I don't want to see."
With Robert Brodsky