Voters reject new Coliseum plan

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang address the media and supporters after the polls closed. Videojournalist: Chris Ware (Aug. 1-2, 2011)

Nassau County residents Monday rejected a plan to borrow up to $400 million for a new Nassau Coliseum and minor league baseball park.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the vote was 57 percent against to 43 percent for the referendum, according to the Board of Elections website.

"The people of Nassau County have spoken and I can take joy in knowing that we celebrated democracy today," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano told supporters at the Coliseum Monday night.

"Over the course of the past several weeks, we all learned a lot about our county and what is needed to improve our local economy," he said. "I can tell you this, tonight is not the end of our journey, but merely the beginning. In the coming weeks I will explore a path for new opportunities and growth in Nassau County."

Islanders owner Charles Wang, speaking after Mangano, said, "I have to tell you I'm disappointed and to put it very bluntly, I'm heartbroken. I have to tell you it's a very emotional day for us."

Wang said that, despite the disappointment, "we're committed to the Nassau Coliseum until 2015. We will honor our lease."

But Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, who opposed the plan for taxpayers to borrow up to $400 million, said late last night, "The voters clearly have rejected a property tax hike for this purpose. Now it's our obligation to find the solution that enables us to build a new Coliseum with private money, not taxpayer money."

Proponents had pegged a new arena as an essential cog in spurring economic development throughout the cash-strapped county and in creating 3,000 permanent jobs.

Opponents warned of property tax hikes and noted the borrowing over its 30-year life would cost some $800 million.

On a day of light turnout, the single-issue referendum asked residents to decide whether they want the county to borrow up to $400 million for construction of a new arena, a minor league baseball park and other economic development projects in the 77-acre Nassau hub area.

Jimmy Castellane, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk counties, expressed disappointment but said his members would "continue to fight" for a new arena.

"We'll continue to try to move forward with progress. We know something has to get built here," he said. "I have thousands of guys sitting at home now," out of work.

Wang had said the team would leave when its lease expires in 2015 if a new arena is not built, raising the prospect that the 39-year-old arena could close without a major tenant.

Voters offered sharply different views of the project as they emerged from polling places Monday.

Irving and Alice Lyons walked out of a Uniondale polling place together and said they had both voted no. For them, the decision was about taxes and traffic. "He can afford to build it himself," Irving Lyons said of Wang.

Gay Aiello, 78, of Elmont, said he had voted to authorize the borrowing, fearing Long Island's only major sports team would leave. "If they leave us, they're going to leave a big empty space," he said.

The proposal would have kept the Islanders in Nassau until at least 2045. Mangano said that without an anchor tenant, the Coliseum would close, taking 2,600 jobs. The shortfall in sales tax revenue from a shuttered Coliseum would cause an average property tax increase of $16 per homeowner, a county consultant said.

Nassau would have received a minimum of $14 million annually in revenue from the Islanders. The annual debt service on the Coliseum piece of the development would have been about $26 million a year, or more than $800 million over the 30-year life of the bonds.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Budget Review says the net cost could have been as little as $13.80 for the average homeowner per year. If the team revenue did not go to tax reduction, the average homeowner would have paid an additional $58 per year, the office said. Team and county officials said the revenue from the team, plus increases in sales taxes a new arena is expected to generate, would have offset any tax increase.

With Sid Cassese, Mikala Jamison, William Murphy, Candice Ruud, John Valenti and Patrick Whittle

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