Nassau residents to vote on new Coliseum

County exec Edward Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang applaud the Nassau legislature vote in favor of borrowing $400 million to build a new hockey arena. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (May 31, 2011)

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The decision about whether to build a new home for the New York Islanders is now in the public's hands.

Barring a possible move by a state watchdog to deny contracts necessary to hold the referendum, Nassau residents will vote Aug. 1 on whether to borrow up to $400 million to build a new hockey arena at the site of the Nassau Coliseum and a minor league baseball field at nearby Mitchel Field. The county Legislature voted 11-7 Tuesday, with one Republican not present, to allow the referendum to take place.

The legislation was signed moments later by County Executive Edward Mangano.

"This bill is not just for the Islanders," Mangano said. "It's for Long Islanders."

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Islanders owner Charles Wang added that "this day will go down in history" and serve as a catalyst for redeveloping the Hub area.

The referendum represents one of several upcoming hurdles for the borrowing plan.

If the public approves the bonding, the Legislature then would need to give its approval. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which has taken control of Nassau's finances, would have to sign off on the plan.

NIFA also must approve all county contracts over $50,000. Both the Republican and Democratic county election commissioners have said new contracts to hold the election -- estimated by the legislative budget office to cost between $1.6 million and $2.2 million to stage -- could require approval of the state watchdog.

NIFA, which has been critical of the borrowing, declined to comment on the prospects of intervening before the vote. NIFA took over the county's finances in January and froze a series of scheduled union wage increases.

The outcome of Tuesday's vote authorizing the referendum was never in question, as the Legislature's 11 Republicans had signaled their intent to vote yes. The only drama was how the body's eight Democrats would vote. Ultimately, all but one -- Legis. David Denenberg of Merrick -- voted no.

Several Democrats argued that not enough was known about the terms of a revenue-sharing agreement between the county and the teams' operators. Mangano said those details would be available by mid-June. Denenberg argued that voters are "smart enough" to make a decision based upon that and other information that they'll have.

"I defy you to vote for something with no information," Legis. Robert Troiano Jr. (D-Westbury), whose district includes the Coliseum property, said during the debate.

GOP Legis. Howard Kopel of Lawrence said he did not vote because he was away on personal business.

Each of the "no" votes was followed by loud boos from Islanders fans and labor officials who packed the legislative chamber. Mangano accused Democrats of "playing politics" with their vote.

The vote came after the failure of several Democratic amendments to move the referendum back. Denenberg called for postponing the vote until Primary Day, Sept. 13, while Legis. Wayne Wink Jr. of Roslyn recommended pushing it to Election Day, Nov. 8.

Another Democratic amendment, mandating that any revenue generated by the new facilities come in under a separate tax line to assure the costs of the bonds are offset, was not filed in time for consideration.

Before the vote, business groups, union officials and Islanders fans rallied for the development outside Borrelli's Italian Restaurant, across from the Coliseum.

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