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Civic groups want Coliseum deal to include $10M for Uniondale

Islander fans entering Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in

Islander fans entering Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale for their last regular-season game on Saturday, April 11, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

As the Nassau County Legislature prepares to vote Monday on changes to Forest City Ratner's lease to overhaul the Nassau Coliseum to allow the developer to use $90 million in Chinese investments, civic groups are calling for the deal to include $10 million for the Uniondale community.

The Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition, composed of 26 civic, business, education and church groups, will rally Monday at the legislature to press for a "community benefits agreement" to aid home and business owners near the arena.

Gregory Maney, a coalition leader, wants Ratner to help fund the expansion of the John J. Byrne Community Center in Uniondale, replace business signs on Uniondale Avenue, help demolish 67 abandoned homes and create a small business incubator to support local start-up companies. Maney, of Hempstead, said the spending would help compensate for pollution, noise and traffic he said the arena project will generate.

"All we are asking is for Forest City to be a responsible corporate partner," said Maney, a Hofstra University professor.

Forest City, while opposing the community development language, said it plans to provide Uniondale residents with jobs and internships at the Coliseum and its surrounding retail and entertainment complex.

"We have a long track record of bringing community benefits to the neighborhoods we build in and look forward to doing the same in Nassau," Forest City spokeswoman Ashley Cotton said. "We have discussed delivering the many jobs and benefits associated with this project with local groups and officials already and will continue to reach out and coordinate all activities and listen to all ideas and recommendations."

County legislators are scheduled to vote Monday on an amendment to Ratner's lease with the county to renovate the Coliseum and its surrounding land.

The amendment would allow Ratner to use a combined $90 million from 180 Chinese investors providing $500,000 each through the federal EB-5 program, which provides visas in exchange for investment in job-creating projects in the United States. If approved, Ratner would increase his investment in the Coliseum project from $229 million to $260.5 million.

The legislature's Rules Committee approved the lease change last month. But, as of Friday, no lawmaker had submitted legislation to require Ratner to provide the community development money.

A spokesman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment because there was no bill before the legislature.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who represents Uniondale, said he is trying to broker a deal between County Executive Edward Mangano and Forest City to include the community benefits language in the amended lease or in a side agreement.

"The community is not asking for anything unreasonable here," Abrahams said.

Forest City signed a community benefits agreement in 2005 as part of its development of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and nearby office, residential and retail buildings in Brooklyn. The deal called for the construction of 2,240 units of affordable housing, job training, environmental initiatives and education services.

Ratner officials contend the Barclays project, which included 16 buildings, an arena and a park, cannot be compared to the Coliseum redevelopment.

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