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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Nassau Coliseum's place in the county executive race

The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. (Aug.

The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. (Aug. 13, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Two years ago this month, Nassau voters rejected a $400 million public borrowing -- pushed by County Executive Edward Mangano and New York Islanders hockey team owner Charles Wang -- to build a new arena in Uniondale.

Last October, Wang announced that, as a result, he was moving his team from the old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The announcement dealt a stinging blow to the prestige of Republican Mangano.

The Coliseum threatened to stand on the concrete landscape like an enormous trash can holding the defeated dreams and schemes of developers and politicians.

But Thursday -- less than three months before he faces voters -- Mangano scored a redeeming public-relations coup by announcing that Forest City Ratner Cos., the Barclays Center developer, would redevelop the 77-acre Hub site at its own expense.

"We share in the revenue, and not the expense," he crowed. "This plan gives us a clear road to success."

No matter if his skeptics suspect the "road to success" could turn out like many a "Mideast road map to peace." No matter if they say it proves that taxpayers really didn't have to finance the renovations as Mangano and Wang once urged.

No matter that Bruce Ratner, executive chairman of Forest City Ratner and the adviser-turned-favored-bidder, is the same businessman who lured the Islanders out of Nassau, or that Ratner's Brooklyn project turned out different from first planned.

For Mangano, none of that has immediate consequence. In the election race now underway, the timing couldn't be much better.

No longer does he appear empty-handed on the Hub -- at a moment when Democrats stress his fiscal failings. This step gives him something new to promote and announce and ballyhoo in the days and weeks before Election Day.

He no longer needs to explain and rationalize and defend what was doomed to be an underutilized giant cistern. A Mangano political associate said: "Between the excitement that builds on this deal, and Mangano's record of holding the line on taxes, the two biggest issues for voters, taxes and jobs, lean in our direction." It's the "win-win" cliche.

Former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, whose comprehensive Lighthouse project met defeat from the Town of Hempstead, is looking for a rematch of the 2009 race in which Mangano unseated him by a few hundred votes after two terms. "The bottom line," he said in response to Thursday's news, "is that this is a central piece of the county's future, and we need to make sure that this plan will come to fruition as proposed. And more importantly, we need to make sure that there's a vision for the long term to do something more ambitious than just build the new Coliseum."

Suozzi for years has promoted higher-density "downtown centers" near mass-transit lines to build the economy, and continues to do so. Team Mangano has long said Suozzi's plans for the Hub site were "too grandiose" to succeed.

Adam Haber, Suozzi's rival in the Democratic primary, said in a statement: "While I'm pleased that a redevelopment of the Coliseum is moving forward, it is troubling that the gross revenue generated for Nassau is going from 11.5 percent under the Wang proposal to 8 percent with this deal. Nassau County deserves a good development that includes a convention center and affordable rental housing, so we remain competitive."


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