More than a month ago, when Lighthouse financier Charles Wang said he would begin considering alternatives to building a $3.8 billion mixed-use development around Nassau Coliseum, supporters of the project argued that without Wang and partner Scott Rechler, the county would be left with a stretch of barren asphalt, hurting the region's economy and sending a negative message to other developers.
But the outlook may not be that bleak.
Indeed, several other local developers are ready to step in should Wang and Rechler back away, with five of them specifically telling Newsday they would consider building at the site if the Lighthouse partners do not.
"Something can be built there and something will be built there," said residential builder Michael Dub, who owns The Beechwood Organization in Jericho. "Something will succeed there. It's too central a location not to."
The Lighthouse proposal has taken a publicity backseat recently to the drama surrounding the race for Nassau County executive. Both County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Republican challenger Edward Mangano - who are now locked in a recount - have said they support the Lighthouse project, which is currently awaiting further review by the Town of Hempstead.
Wang has said he is considering other options - and some of his alternative sites are pushing ahead with development plans. New York City's economic development arm, for instance, recently issued a request for qualifications, or RFQ, for the Willets Point site in Queens near Citi Field. Any developer interested in the site must answer the RFQ by Dec. 7. Queens officials have said they'd welcome Wang and his New York Islanders to the borough if he was interested.
Lighthouse officials could not be reached for comment.
To be sure, most of the Island's larger developers were quick to say they want Wang and Rechler's effort in Uniondale to succeed. And some regional and county officials said the Lighthouse remains the best proposal - and, without it, there's trouble ahead.
"It's really almost more symbolic than anything else," said Michael Watt, the executive vice president of the Long Island Builders Institute. "If 10 years from now there are tumbleweeds or we're still stuck with 77 acres of asphalt, that's going to be representative of where the Island is headed."
But others say that should the Lighthouse be rejected, or should Wang move the team, a new request for proposals would not go unanswered. Other teams might be available for the Coliseum and other options exist, they said.
"It's a valuable piece of property and it's always going to be a valuable piece of property," said Jan Burman, president of the Engel Burman Group in Garden City, which submitted a proposal for the land four years ago when Nassau County first issued an RFP. "If for some reason it doesn't happen with Charles, I'm sure someone at some point will have a great idea, too. . . . I don't think it's a precursor to the rest of Long Island failing."
Burman and Dubb each said if Wang left and a new RFP was issued, they would consider responding to it.
"I don't want to do anything to undermine it [Lighthouse], but if he left and if the county wanted to put the site up for another round of RFP, I would be interested, as would, I'm sure, several other developers," Dubb said.
While local developers did not want to discuss specific ideas for the site, some said the initial RFP, which Wang won in 2005, provides some insight. Take Vincent Polimini, who that year suggested consolidating Nassau County's offices at the site, and adding some residential units to the mix.
"I would absolutely come back to it," Polimini said of his plan, noting that he thinks the Lighthouse project is still the best option for the site.
While some county officials said developers would be deterred by the length of the Lighthouse review process - it has been more than four years since the RFP was first issued - and the town's response, some local builders said that wasn't an issue.
"We know what it takes to build a project," said developer Ed Blumenfeld, who runs Blumenfeld Development Group in Syosset, which partnered with New York Mets owner and investment company Sterling Equities Inc. as the other finalists for the Coliseum site project. "We know how long it takes and what the process is. I don't think this is any different than anything else we've encountered."
Others, however, worry that anything built at the site after a Lighthouse failure would be more conservative, less creative and less daring.
"I would be more concerned about the effect that it would have on people's desire to try to take development risk," said Matthew Whalen, vice president of development for AvalonBay in Melville, which could, sources said, play a future role in the Lighthouse's residential component if it goes ahead.
Financing and the economic downturn could still be at issue as well.
"It's a challenge to get money now," Burman said. "The bigger it is, the harder it is. It used to be the bigger, the better. But local banks [that have financing available] can do a smaller job; they can't do a huge job."
Whalen, the current president of the Long Island Builders Institute, noted that, fundamentally, developers are "investors," putting their money into local communities and hoping to make money, too.
"There are only so many ways to build buildings and make money on a site that would justify redeveloping the Coliseum," Whalen said. "You're not going to get a park. It doesn't work like that."