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Town's Coliseum plan called not profitable

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray reveals the town's

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray reveals the town's plan for the area around Nassau Coliseum. Murray wants to cut the Lighthouse Project proposed by Islanders owner Charles Wang in half. (July 8, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A new zoning plan that would halve the size of the Lighthouse Project, or anything else built on the land surrounding Nassau Coliseum, could make it more difficult -- but not impossible -- for a developer to turn a profit, according to experts.

With lower density, less height and fewer homes, Hempstead Town's proposal, announced Monday, could make the 77-acre parcel less appealing, even to developers who once bid on the chance to build there.

"The yields just aren't there," said developer Vincent Polimeni, who heads Polimeni International in Garden City. Would Polimeni return to the site to build there, if Lighthouse Project developer Charles Wang pulled out? "I wouldn't," Polimeni said. "There are a thousand questions and there's not a simple answer."

The questions arose after Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray unveiled a proposed zone for the county-owned land surrounding the Coliseum.

At a sometimes contentious news conference at Hempstead Town Hall, Murray said the town moved a stalled process forward. "This process was dead in the water," she said. "We've created a zone I truly believe will allow for reasonable development and . . . a renovated home for the New York Islanders."

But it may not be that easy. In a statement, the Lighthouse Development Group and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the town's idea "looks to be economically unviable." Lighthouse principals Charles Wang, who owns the New York Islanders, and Scott Rechler did not return calls Monday.

Polimeni and others suggested that the most significant unknown in determining the economics is the price of the land. Wang or another developer could negotiate a lower land price, but that would reduce revenue for the land owner -- Nassau County.

"Anytime you reduce by 50 percent the buildable footage -- and it makes no difference whether it's [residential] units or retail or office -- it's going to reduce the land price," said Ed Blumenfeld of Blumenfeld Development Corp., which also bid on the initial RFP. "It's going to reduce the value of the land and ultimately, it's not economically viable."

Others pointed to the price of building parking as a key concern. The town's plan allows for 12,000 parking spaces -- all in garages. Developers pegged the cost at anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 per space - or up to $240 million for parking -- without producing significant revenue.

What's more, some developers said they wouldn't start a commercial project of any kind right now, especially since the area has an 18.5 percent commercial vacancy rate.

Even if the development itself would work financially, the new density likely would not provide enough revenue for Wang to pay for the full $320 million renovation of Nassau Coliseum, experts said.

"It doesn't look like you'd generate enough money -- enough economic development dollars -- to make the money to build a new Coliseum," said Michael White, who heads the Long Island Regional Planning Council.

But Martin Cantor, who heads the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College, said a project could still work at the site. He suggested a public-private partnership could finance the Coliseum, noting too that with lower density come lower construction costs.

"Now, you have to go back and sharpen your pencils and say, 'How can I make money on this?' " Cantor said. "And he [Wang] can make money on this. . . . It's still economically viable."


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