County Executive Edward Mangano made his pitch to the Nassau Legislature Tuesday for a new arena for the Islanders as critics and supporters got their first opportunity to weigh in on a plan to borrow up to $400 million for the project.
Mangano addressed a legislative hearing after participating in a boisterous rally on the steps of the County Executive and Legislative Office Building in Mineola, at which hundreds of union officials and Islanders fans, chanting "build it now," urged lawmakers to put the borrowing issue before voters in an Aug. 1 referendum.
Promising residents a return on their investment if they support the building of a new coliseum, Mangano said, "If we build this, they will come," referring to other professional teams, as well as performers and shows.
Islanders owner Charles Wang says he will move the team in 2015, when his current lease expires, if a new arena isn't built.
But Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a community group that promotes sustainable development, criticized the borrowing plan as short on details about how a revenue-sharing arrangement between the teams and the county would work. "I don't feel like we have enough information yet to support this," Tyson said.
Mangano told lawmakers that contract negotiations with Wang are under way and that the revenue-sharing plan will be finalized by mid-June.
The GOP-controlled legislature will vote Tuesday on whether to put the borrowing issue to voters. The referendum would seek voters' approval for Nassau to borrow up to $350 million to build a new arena for the Islanders and another $50 million for a minor-league baseball field.
A simple majority in the Legislature is needed to get the referendum proposal on the ballot. If the referendum succeeds, a two-thirds vote in the Legislature then would be required to authorize the borrowing itself; with the GOP in control 11-8, two Democrats would have to vote to approve the borrowing. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which controls the county's finances, also would have to sign off on the borrowing.
At the moment, several Democrats remain on the fence about the timing of the referendum vote -- on a Monday in August. Tuesday, Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) offered an amendment that would push the vote to Election Day, Nov. 8. "This would maximize the number of people who will come out to vote," Wink said. Democratic aides said their eight-member caucus supports Wink's amendment.
But Deputy County Executive Rob Walker said delaying the vote would provide insufficient time for the Islanders to design a new arena. Walker said that if the Coliseum project runs over budget, the Islanders would be on the hook for the extra costs. Construction of the hockey arena would begin next spring.
"The Democrats are simply playing politics by attempting to block County Executive Mangano's economic development and job creation plan," said Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin.
Islanders' senior vice president Michael Picker said the team supports holding the vote on Aug. 1.Labor officials argued that the Coliseum project would create jobs in the ailing construction industry.
"Each day that we stall the process, another member goes to into foreclosure or can't make a payment on their vehicle," said Paul Leo of the North East Regional Council of Carpenters.