LI business groups at odds on Coliseum plan

The Nassau Coliseum. (July 6, 2011) The Nassau Coliseum. (July 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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Two large local business groups clashed Wednesday over Nassau County's proposal to borrow nearly $400 million for a new Nassau Coliseum and a minor league ballpark.

The Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, and the Association for a Better Long Island, a real estate group, are often on the same side of economic issues.

Now, said ABLI president Desmond Ryan, there is a "profound split."

The LIA Wednesday backed the effort to build a new Nassau Coliseum and ballpark, arguing it would "create jobs and enhance our region."

"We think it will enhance the region, create jobs and lead to further economic development," said LIA president and chief executive Kevin Law.

But Ryan said the deal would "fleece the taxpayers" because they would foot the bill for a plan that primarily benefits Islanders owner Charles Wang.

"This has nothing to do with the Islanders. This has everything to do with a real estate deal," Ryan said. "This deal . . . will impact every taxpayer in Nassau County for the next 30 years."

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Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has proposed borrowing up to $400 million over 30 years -- the length of the new Islanders' lease -- to build a new hockey arena in Uniondale and a minor league ballpark. County residents will vote Aug. 1 on the borrowing.

With interest, the total debt service is expected to exceed $800 million. The county's Office of Legislative Budget Review has estimated that could cost $58 per household per year for 30 years.

Nassau and the Islanders have agreed on a revenue-sharing plan that would give the county 11.5 percent of all arena revenue. The county would receive a minimum of $14 million a year, but says it expects the revenue-sharing to more than pay for the cost to taxpayers.

Wang couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday night, but Islanders senior vice president Michael Picker said the alternative to the deal is the Islanders' departure and the Coliseum's closure. Wang has said he will move the team if he doesn't have a new arena by 2015. The Islanders, Picker said, generate more than 2,000 jobs and $100 million in annual earnings. "Without this deal, all these jobs and earnings will be in jeopardy," Picker said.

While the two business groups don't have any decision-making power, they have significant clout on the Island -- especially with the major businesses and developers they count among their members.

County spokesman Brian Nevin said the ABLI's objections "are based on their own self-interest."

Several ABLI members competed for the original request for proposals on the Coliseum land. But Ryan noted that the land is county-owned and by pressing for the "best deal," ABLI is "protecting the taxpayers of Nassau County."

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