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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau Coliseum deal prompts questions

Mikhail Prokhorov, left, and Bruce Ratner attend a

Mikhail Prokhorov, left, and Bruce Ratner attend a press conference at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 10, 2012. Photo Credit: WireImage / James Devaney

It likely came as a surprise to Nassau County residents that Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, had purchased a controlling stake in the company that is redeveloping the Nassau Coliseum and building an adjacent retail and entertainment complex.

But Prokhorov's potential involvement wasn't a secret, a county official said Monday.

Prokhorov's Moscow-based Onexim Sports and Entertainment was on a list of potential project investors that went to county lawmakers -- as part of a contract with Nassau Events Center, the entity created by Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner to run the refurbished arena.

Onexim's name was included as one of many potential investors in a schedule attached to the contract approved unanimously by the county legislature in September 2013.

The document did not specify what stake any potential investor would have.

Nonetheless, Prokhorov's purchase of a controlling stake in a project -- on the most-coveted piece of developable real estate in Nassau -- is subject to no further legislative review or action, according to a spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano and the county's outside legal consultants for the project.

What does Ratner's remaining 15 percent stake mean for the future of the $260.5-million Coliseum renovation, which is slated to break ground on Thursday?

A lot, county spokesman Brian Nevin said Monday.

"Bruce Ratner will continue to serve as managing operator of the Coliseum and residents will continue to benefit from a 100 percent privately-financed renovation that generates millions annually for taxpayers," he said. "Remember, all obligations in the contract remain," said Nevin.

Yes, but wouldn't any minority-stake owner by default have to consider the wishes of any majority-stake owner? Nassau officials seem to be banking on the specifics of the contract -- which call for renovated restrooms and other spaces, and for a new facade -- to overcome the math.

And also on the fact that Ratner, even as minority partner, will remain the project's lead developer, along with Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark. Ratner and Yormark, along with Onexim, also would manage the redeveloped arena, according to a Newsday report. Nevin said Monday that, contractually, Ratner would have to remain with the project for five years after the Coliseum reopened.

"This is about financing," Zachary Klein, of Pannone, Lopes, Devereaux & West, Nassau's outside legal advisers for the project, said in an interview Monday.

"The vision that Bruce Ratner has and that the county executive has does not change," Klein said.

Still, Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), the legislature's minority leader, was right to suggest that Prokhorov make a good faith appearance before the legislature to pledge that he would abide by a lease agreement with Nassau -- which calls for Nassau Events Center to pay more than $500 million in rent and sales taxes over the agreement's 4-year life.

Or maybe Prokhorov will have something to say if he appears at Thursday's long-awaited groundbreaking.

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, yes, even in its dilapidated state, stands as testament to the ambition of the nations's first post-World War II suburb.

Which means residents want to know what -- and who -- comes next.

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