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Union workers, business group urge Hempstead to approve Coliseum redevelopment plan

Artist's rendering of developer Bruce Ratner's plans for

Artist's rendering of developer Bruce Ratner's plans for the Nassau Coliseum site on May 2, 2013.

Business leaders and union workers at a crowded public hearing urged the Hempstead Town Board Tuesday to approve a master plan to redevelop the area surrounding the Nassau Coliseum.

Uniondale civic activists who also attended the meeting called on the project developer, Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner Cos., headed by Bruce Ratner, to fund neighborhood redevelopment projects.

After nearly two hours of testimony, the seven-member town board decided unanimously to vote on the plan at an undetermined future date. Town spokeswoman Susie Pokalsky said the vote could come "at next week's meeting, it could be at the meeting in June, it could be at any future meeting."

Forest City Ratner is seeking town approval to develop 77 acres surrounding the arena into an entertainment district with 188,000 square feet of retail space, a 1,500-seat movie theater, four restaurants and an entertainment center.

"I can assure you that we will bring our successful track record of creating great shopping and entertainment districts to Long Island," Ashley Cotton, Forest City Ratner senior vice president for external affairs, told the board.

Cotton was referring to redevelopment projects in Times Square in the late 1990s and construction of the Ridge Hill shopping complex in Westchester County.

The company, selected by Nassau County in 2013 to overhaul the Coliseum, has said it plans to begin remodeling the aging arena in August.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said at the hearing that while "this is the first of several approvals NEC must obtain before building anything on the property," the developers do not require town approval to begin work on the Coliseum itself.

Richard O'Kane, chairman of Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk, urged the town board to "OK the conceptual plan -- time is of the essence for many, many people who can use the jobs."

Ratner and unions say the project will generate 2,000 construction jobs.

Matthew Cohen, vice president of government affairs and communications for the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, said the project "will be an economic shot in the arm to the county and the region."

Uniondale civic activists called on the developers to sign a community benefits agreement that would provide funding to repair abandoned homes in the area, and expand a community center.

"You are Uniondale's first and last line of defense," Greg Maney, of the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition, which represents 28 civic groups from the surrounding area, told board members.

Last month, the Nassau County Legislature declined a similar request by the activists to require Forest City Ratner to pledge $10 million for improvements in surrounding communities.

Cotton has said the company plans to provide Uniondale residents with discounted tickets to Coliseum events, as well as jobs and internships at the arena and the retail and entertainment complex.

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