Veterans not sold on Nassau Coliseum name change

Travel deals

What's in a name? Plenty, according to some veterans groups that say the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum should stay just that. They say they aren't sold on a plan by developers of the new coliseum and Lighthouse project to give them $1 million and some other benefits in return for giving up the name for the new arena.

"It is a living memorial to all veterans who served our beloved country from the Revolution until tomorrow," said Richard Gales, 48, of Elmont, of the Nassau Veterans of Foreign Wars. "You can't let that memory go."

Despite arguments by Gales and three other vets' groups, the United Veterans Organization of Nassau, representing 29 vets' groups, accepted the developers' offer, 14-4, in a vote Sunday.

Under the deal, according to developer and vets' sources, the Lighthouse Group would give the United Veterans $50,000 a year for 20 years for the upkeep of Veterans Plaza in Eisenhower Park. Also, the developers will call the roadway leading to the new coliseum Veterans Memorial Way and provide vets' groups with office space in one of the Lighthouse buildings.

County officials contend that as the coliseum name is in the county charter, a name change would require a legislative vote. An agreement between Lighthouse officials and veterans could pave the way for that approval.

Once the plan for the new coliseum is approved, Lighthouse principals Charles Wang and Scott Rechler could sell the naming rights, but have not said whether they would do so.

Morris Miller, 61, of Massapequa, the state coordinator of the Veterans of the Vietnam War, cast his group's "nay" vote on Sunday, but said the groups really have no choice but to accept the offer. "I voted my conscience to keep the name, even though I knew my vote would not have counted."

Veterans have zealously guarded the coliseum name since they persuaded then County Executive Ralph Caso to adopt it in 1971 before the building was completed. Pat Cassetta, 82, of Uniondale, a member of the 1st Marine Division Association, said he was at the naming of the memorial and has fought to stop proposed name changes four times since then. Still, he voted in favor of the Lighthouse deal.

"I hate to lose the name but it cannot be stopped," he said. "If we don't give up the name, they will take it [the coliseum] all the way down and the vets would be left with nothing."

But Lighthouse Group president Michael Picker said the developers tried to come up with an acceptable deal for the veterans. "We've always worked with the vets to come up with an arrangement that properly recognized them for their extraordinary service to Long Island and the country," he said.

Ted Shuster of Valley Stream, who represents the Jewish War Veterans, said he voted in favor of the deal, noting that no one uses the correct name anyway. Also, he said, "I'm impressed by the fact that Wang will give meeting space for all veterans organizations."

United Veterans vice president Joe Slattery said the money would help Long Island's vets. "These are things that will help keep us going into the future."

But John Kirk of Levittown, a Navy veteran, said the name should stay, even with the new building. "If you can just change the name of a memorial on a whim, then words don't mean anything. It's sad." VETS' STADIUM: What LI veterans think of changing coliseum s name  It is a living memorial to all veterans who served ... You can t let that memory go. -- Richard Gales, Nassau Veterans of Foreign Wars  I m impressed by the fact that Wang will give meeting space for all veterans organizations. -- Ted Shuster, Jewish War Veterans History of arena's name AUGUST 1971 Nassau County Executive Ralph Caso recommended that the new sports arena being built be named Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in gratitude of the "thousands of young men who sacrificed their lives to make possible everything we have today."

SPRING 1998 Veterans-group leaders fought against an appeal from New York Sports Ventures, which owned the Islanders, to buy the coliseum name in exchange for financing another tribute to veterans.

FEBRUARY 1999 Nassau County planned to sell the arena to a corporation, for an estimated $40 million to $90 million, following a nationwide trend that spawned Coors Field, the Molson Center and the RCA Dome. But the prospect of dropping the Veterans Memorial name angered some Nassau veterans.

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