Some builders stay away from Coliseum plan

The Nassau Coliseum is seen from the roof

The Nassau Coliseum is seen from the roof of the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale. (July 14, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas)

Several of Long Island's biggest real estate developers are sitting on the sidelines as Nassau County searches for a qualified "master developer" for the Nassau Coliseum site.

Developers have until Monday to disclose their qualifications to redevelop the 77 acre-site, the first stage in the process of transforming the Central Nassau land.

But in interviews, local developers said they remain concerned about the project's potential to make money. They cited the troubled economy, zoning restrictions, the lack of public funding and perhaps the biggest unknown -- New York Islanders owner Charles Wang's plans for the team -- as reasons.

"They're putting an RFQ [request for qualifications] out there for a business proposition that is dead on arrival," said developer Mark Hamer, president of Harvest Real Estate Services in Jericho. "They keep trying to force a square peg into a round hole."

Wang says he will not stay in the current arena past 2015, when the team's lease expires.

"Until Charles Wang makes up his mind and decides what he's going to do, I think it's all political posturing on both sides," said Garden City developer Jan Burman, who bid on a county redevelopment proposal in 2005, but is undecided about the new request. "He really has the keys to the car," he said of Wang. "The most important guy is not in the room."

Goal: To keep Islanders

Some area business leaders said they expect developers to respond to the county's request. And Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said he remains focused on finding a way to develop the area with a new or renovated Coliseum.

"The objective of this RFQ is to retain the New York Islanders in Nassau County," he said. "The New York Islanders were made aware of this approach and did not raise objections."

Islanders senior vice president Michael Picker did not return calls for comment.

The Monday deadline comes two days before the one-year anniversary of a failed referendum that would have allowed the county to borrow up to $400 million to build a new arena

Mangano says the county will commit no funding to the project. But Hamer, who is not answering the request, and other developers say it would be difficult for a private firm to make the project work without public funds. He and others also noted that no one has found a way to make money if they have to build or renovate an arena while following Hempstead Town's mixed-use zoning code, which limits the number of housing units that can be built.

Mangano last week called the zone a "guideline, not a hard and fast rule for development."

The town's zone is "sustainable and flexible," Hempstead spokesman Michael Deery said. "We are eager to support the county's efforts to develop the site."

In 2005, the last time the county sought private developers for the site, Wang joined developer Scott Rechler in proposing the $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project. Nassau awarded them the project, but Hempstead balked over concerns about density and traffic, water and sewer usage.

Rechler said he has been approached by "a number of people" wanting to know if he will respond to the request. Rechler declined to say. "Obviously we're monitoring the situation carefully," said Rechler, chairman of RXR Realty in Uniondale. "But based on our past experience, we recognize that there's no simple, silver bullet solution to have a mixed-use development with a new Coliseum without some third-party support."

Interested, but concerned

Syosset developer Ed Blumenfeld, who submitted a proposal in 2005, expressed interest in the project. But he said he remained concerned about the overall economy and the uncertainty about the fate of the arena.

"What is one expected to respond to?" he asked. "If it's our qualifications to be the one to put the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together, we're very capable of doing that. But until you have the pieces, you have no puzzle to put together."

The fourth 2005 bidder, Garden City-based Vincent Polimeni, said he is focused on other projects.

Commercial real estate broker David Pennetta, who heads the Commercial Industrial Brokers Society of Long Island, a brokers' organization, said Hempstead's zone allows for enough construction to make a profit. "This site will be developed," he said.

James Castellane, who heads the Building & Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, said he hopes developers will respond, noting that some said a year ago they were willing to help. "This is your opportunity to step forward and do it," he said.

But Hamer argued that, "There's no one who's going to put in a credible bid unless that bid has a component in it that's government assistance."With Robert Brodsky

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