That doesn't mean they don't want the team to stay on Long Island, and it doesn't mean people won't support a top-notch entertainment venue at the center of the county. But it does signify that residents who already pay among the highest property taxes in the nation won't commit to a 4-percent increase, in this economy, while the political conversation is focused on out-of-control government spending.
Yet the defeat of the referendum can't equal failure for the Hub, or kill momentum for jobs and development. County Executive Edward Mangano will soon release a request for proposals for the 77-acre parcel, and will welcome any serious development concept. The publicity for the Coliseum plan could have more developers thinking about the parcel, but it's also possible no great proposal will surface.
From the death of the Lighthouse Project in 2009, we learned that the economics of major private commercial projects won't work without receptive zoning. From the failure of this referendum, we've learned taxpayers won't accept the risk to finance a project they see as increasing their tax burden to benefit a sports team owner.
So what will work?
It's time to put together the right group and funding to answer that question, and thanks to the regional economic councils announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, that's just been done. Ten such councils have been created across the state, one of them for Long Island, and they will compete for $1 billion in development money.
The Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, co-chaired by Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz and Long Island Association President Kevin Law and staffed with business people, academics, politicians and community leaders, should make development of the Hub and retention of the Islanders priorities -- even if those two things are dealt with separately. If the best option for the Hub isn't an arena, there may be a way to anchor the casino dreams of the Shinnecock Tribe to a sports/entertainment venue in Suffolk County. This bi-county council is in a good position to see the regional picture.
What's needed now is a plan that makes enough sense to earn seed money from the state and creates enough momentum to grab the public's support. Such a vision may also require a lot more zoning flexibility than the Town of Hempstead's recent updates provide.
Ideally, the Hub plan must be more than just a shopping center or humdrum housing development. It must create revenue for the county, profit for a developer, jobs for the community, and a way to keep the Islanders in the region. More than anything, it must be the kind of project that sparks the energy to create even more growth and development in its wake.
The tools for success exist, and failure is unacceptable. No matter how many times we may clang the puck off the post, we have to keep shooting at success for the Hub parcel and growth for Long Island, aiming for the net until we score. hN