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Backers tout deal for $31.5 million in new Coliseum funding

Artist's rendering of developer Bruce Ratner's plans for

Artist's rendering of developer Bruce Ratner's plans for the Nassau Coliseum site on May 2, 2013.

Backers of amending Nassau's deal to redevelop Nassau Coliseum and the surrounding property told a county legislative committee Monday that it would boost funding by more than $30 million and result in a higher-quality project.

The Rules Committee voted 5-2 to approve the change to the county's lease with Nassau Events Center LLC -- an affiliate of the project's Brooklyn-based developer, Forest City Ratner Cos. -- to allow for foreign financing. The full 19-member county legislature will consider the measure on April 13.

Forest City seeks $90 million from Chinese investors via a federal program that provides work visas to entities that finance job-creating projects in the United States. The access to cheaper cash from abroad, officials say, will allow Forest City to increase its total investment in the Coliseum rebuilding from $229 million to $260.5 million.

County Executive Edward Mangano's office said the additional $31.5 million will be put toward "higher-end amenities" for the project, which includes renovation and downsizing of the Coliseum and building an adjacent entertainment center on the 77-acre Uniondale site.

"For the county, this is an opportunity to get an additional $31 million we weren't getting before," Deputy Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said Monday.

Bruce Ratner, Forest City's executive chairman, has used the same federal program to raise nearly $500 million for construction at and around his Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Nassau's lease with Ratner will otherwise be unchanged, officials said. He has said he hopes to submit site plans to Hempstead Town and begin work in August after the New York Islanders leave to play at Barclays.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) urged the administration to use the period before the lease amendment is adopted to pressure Forest City to pledge additional funding for neighborhood improvements to the areas surrounding the Coliseum project.

"Those communities should be able to get an ironclad community benefits agreement now that there's going to be an additional $30 million in savings for" Forest City, said Abrahams, who voted against the lease amendment because he felt it needed further vetting.

Unrelated to the amendment, Forest City last week sued Blumenfeld Development Group, the company it brought in to develop the adjacent center, claiming it had attempted to make unapproved changes to the project. Blumenfeld officials have denied the claims.

Also Monday, the Rules Committee confirmed the appointment of Gregory May as commissioner of the county's new taxi and limousine commission. May, who served previously as Mangano's legislative liaison, will earn $90,000 overseeing a department that will have seven or eight dedicated investigators.

The administration has said the commission is needed to monitor the "proliferation" of unlicensed cars for hire, including those now widely used by app-based companies such as Uber and Lyft. Monitoring currently is conducted by two or three employees in the county Office of Consumer Affairs.

The committee also approved appointment of three people -- all with ties to the taxicab industry -- to the volunteer taxi and limousine board that will provide guidance for the new county department.

Mangano aides have said increased taxi and limo enforcement can raise up to $2 million a year, but they maintain that the new focus is mostly meant to increase rider safety.

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