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Nassau Coliseum reopening one small step for Long Island economy

A renewed Nassau Coliseum was opened officially Friday, March 31, 2017, with local politicians and business leaders joining the venue's developer and management for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the arena's new main entrance. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

Small-business owners say they will benefit from the renovated Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, which opens on Wednesday, but the ultimate economic payoff is years away.

Experts say the full boost from the redevelopment of the Nassau Hub — the 77-acre tract of which NYCB Live’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is a part — will require construction of elements such as housing, office and retail space. Much of that development is still in the planning stage.

Housing, office and retail development would deliver more revenue to the region than the Nassau Coliseum, said Brad Humphreys, a professor at the West Virginia University Department of Economics who has published research on the economic impact of stadiums.

“Any of it is better than the giant parking lot that currently surrounds the arena,” Humphreys said.

Local business advocates agree. The reopening “isn’t the end product, it is hopefully the beginning of a comprehensive redevelopment for the area,” said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, the largest business group in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

In the meantime, Ralph Galdorisi hopes the arena’s reopening will boost business at Coliseum Deli on Hempstead Turnpike in Uniondale. The arena’s closing cost the deli about $2,000 per week in sales, said Galdorisi, owner of Plainview-based Coliseum Caterers, which owns the deli.

“The parking lot attendants came here, the roadies for concerts came here, other employees came here,” Galdorisi said.

Forest City Ratner Cos., the Brooklyn-based developer that won the contract from Nassau County in 2013 to develop the Nassau Hub, estimated at the time that the project would generate $10.9 billion in economic activity over 30 years.

Bruce Ratner, executive chairman at Forest City Ratner, said in an interview that, once fully developed, the property could generate economic activity “that’s far more than we anticipated.”

One important step took place last month when Memorial Sloan Kettering, the New York-based health system, started work on a $140 million, 140,000-square-foot outpatient treatment and research building on the southwest corner of the property.

The facility will employ about 180 when it opens in late 2019, said Dr. Richard Barakat, director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s regional network. Up to 220 employees could eventually work there.

“It’s right off the highway,” Barakat said. “We wanted a location that is patient-centered and commuter-friendly.”

The Sloan Kettering facility will provide “higher-paying jobs,” Ratner said. “The total impact there is substantially higher than retail jobs.”

Another step: The state late last year approved an $85 million grant to construct two parking garages on the property.

Other developments are moving more slowly.

Retail construction, expected to include a movie theater and restaurants, has been put on hold while the county and the developers weigh the possibility of including housing on the property.

Still, Ratner said he thought retail development could begin in about a year.

It’s premature to say when office space and housing could begin because the decision on where to place the parking garages must come first, Ratner said. He called them “a game changer” because they “free up 19 acres of land for additional development.”

For a big economic payoff “you have to have collateral investment,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist and professor at Smith College in Massachusetts. “The arena can be an excuse for other investment.”

The arena’s reopening nevertheless provides an initial economic boost.

There will be “north of 200 events a year” at the Coliseum, including concerts, college sports and other special events, said Brett Yormark, chief executive of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which oversees programming, marketing and sales at the Barclays Center and the Coliseum. There will be more activity than before it closed, he said.

The Coliseum has hired 1,500 part-time employees to work at events, spokesman Robert Leonard said. About 12 percent of the first 1,000 hires are from Uniondale.

Nearly a quarter of the contracts for the project were awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses, Forest City Ratner said, exceeding the 20 percent it had agreed to.

“Opening the Coliseum is helpful, as is every single development that takes place there,” said Frank Camarano, president of the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce. “I see consumers, new consumers and repeat consumers.”

About 20 percent of the business at Borrelli’s Italian Restaurant, on Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow, was tied to Nassau Coliseum events, owner Frank Borrelli said.

“We had to make changes, and started to focus more on birthday parties, christenings, baby showers and other events,” he said. “We made up the difference. Now, hopefully this will put us over the top.”

The arena has scheduled a WWE event for April 10, and that could be good for one area gym.

Camarano’s family owns the World Gym on Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow, where wrestlers used to lift weights before a WWE Monday Night Raw performance at the Coliseum, about a mile away.

“John Cena and other wrestlers used to come in here, and it would be wild,” Camarano said. “They needed to work out, but, really, they spent half their time signing autographs and taking pictures. It was great, unbelievable publicity for us. I hope they come back here.”

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