Eight seats at the renovated Nassau Coliseum will stay vacant for concerts and other events to honor the military, Long Island first responders and victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to the arena’s developer.
Empty seats will be dedicated to Prisoners of War/Missing in Action members of the armed forces and to each branch of the military — the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Other seats will be left empty to honor first responders such as police, firefighters and emergency service members, and the nearly 500 Long Islanders who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The seats will spread out across the arena, which reopens April 5 with a Billy Joel concert, and include an embroidered back with a logo of the unit or entity being honored. The seats, officials said, will stay in an upright position and a railing in front of each chair will prevent members of the public from sitting on them.
“We honor and value our military for all they’ve done and wanted to come up with something that is permanent,” said Roland Guevara, vice president of community relations at Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the parent of Nassau Events Center, the company spearheading the $165 million arena renovation.
The POW/MIA Chair of Honor program originated at Gillette Stadium in Boston, home of the New England Patriots. The concept now is in use at professional, minor league and college arenas across the country.
Paul Masi, past president of the Nassau County Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said he approached Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in October about dedicating a POW/MIA chair at the Coliseum. NEC then expanded on the idea.
“This is the right thing to do,” said Masi, a veteran of the Vietnam War. “People don’t always stop to think about these things but maybe these chairs will make sure they remember.”
Mangano called the open seats, “a respectful memorial to those who made the supreme sacrifice, those who remain missing in action and all those who answered the call of our nation.”
The arena, now known as the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum Presented By New York Community Bank, was built at Mitchel Field on a former Army and Air Force base. But some veterans have complained over the years that not enough was done to honor members of the Armed Forces.
NEC also is nearing completion of a memorial honoring military veterans that will be erected outside the arena.
The dark granite oval memorial, located on the southeast corner of the Coliseum plaza, between the main entrance and the Long Island Marriott, will measure 19 ½ feet by 16 ½ feet and feature water flowing along its surface. In the center, emerging from the water, is an eternal flame.