If there's any silver lining to the recent announcement that the New York Islanders will decamp to Brooklyn after the 2014-15 season, it's that the pressure to create and execute redevelopment at Nassau County's Hub very quickly has dissipated. So County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to announce the selection of a master developer for the Uniondale property this week is ill-timed.
That's not an excuse for the redevelopment of the property to languish for another decade. The sooner a bold plan for the 77-acre site gets under way, the better. But it does have to be a great plan. Now that the Islanders, after four decades of calling the Nassau Coliseum home, will leave in 2015 for greener, more modern pastures, the county has breathing room to let that happen.
The problem with announcing yet the latest "winner" now, after the county issued a request for proposals earlier this year, is that the game has changed. A new arena and the wickedly difficult parking issues that go with it no longer have to be at the center of the plans. That change means more players might be interested in taking a stab at the project, and those who already submitted proposals to become the master developer might want to rethink their visions.
Mangano has a lot on his plate right now. Moody's just downgraded Nassau County's debt rating last week for the second time in three years, saying the change was due to the county's dwindling reserves and reduced liquidity, as well as weak governance practices and exposure to variable rate debt. Meanwhile both the county comptroller and the state board charged with overseeing Nassau's finances say the 2013 budget may be out of balance, thanks to overly optimistic revenue and expense projections. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority projects a $56-million hole unless Mangano makes more spending cuts or finds credible ways to raise revenue.
With so much to contend with, it would behoove Mangano to take a measured approach on the Hub, and make sure every developer has a chance to contemplate the possibilities and every vision has a chance to be heard. The Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, which can bring state funds to the project, should now be included in the planning process.
The time to act with urgency is when the situation is urgent, which described the Hub and Coliseum problem for the past few years as the Islanders lease has begun to run out. The last thing we need is another plan that can't fly because it's weak or because too many people want to shoot it down.
Now that there's a new opportunity, Mangano ought to seize it.