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Lighthouse lease would keep Islanders on LI till 2030

Artist's rendering of the Lighthouse Project.

Artist's rendering of the Lighthouse Project. Credit: Handout

Under the proposed lease between Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and The Lighthouse developers, expected to be announced Thursday, the New York Islanders would be playing hockey on Long Island until 2030.

But The Lighthouse project still has many hurdles to overcome before it becomes reality and the 99-year proposed lease itself requires County Legislature approval.

>> Click here to see plans for the Lighthouse project

If the agreement is approved, Lighthouse partners Charles Wang and Scott Rechler would pay Nassau County $1.5 million a year to lease the 77-acre property around Nassau Coliseum, sources said.

Many of the provisions of the proposed lease, they said, were contained in a similar agreement drawn up in 2005 by Wang and Suozzi. The release of the new lease comes two days before Wang's Oct. 3 deadline for significant progress on the project. The new lease was needed because some terms of the 2005 lease changed after the county decided to let other developers bid on the land.

Even if it is approved, the lease, and broader plans to transform the Coliseum and build a mixed-use development on the 150 acres around it, will mean nothing without zoning and site approvals, and building permits, from the Town of Hempstead.

The legislature can't vote on the lease until the town completes its environmental review, county officials said.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray weighed in on the lease negotiations last month when she wrote a letter to Suozzi, making specific suggestions on the terms of the agreement.

Murray had asked that the Islanders agree to play at the Coliseum for 30 years after its renovation. That's about 15 years longer than the new lease requires. However, without the new lease, the Islanders only have to play here until 2015.

A look at the 2005 lease offers a glimpse at many other issues that the developers and the county have had to address - and would have to address in a new lease.

Four years ago, the county allowed The Lighthouse developers to seek financing for the project from a "variety" of sources, including Industrial Development Agency bonds - and sources say that hasn't changed. That's a sticking point, since Murray, in her letter, specifically asked that the lease ban Wang and Rechler from seeking any tax breaks.

"No developer is going to build without trying to get some tax benefit," said Marilyn Gottlieb, an attorney in Nassau. "They're not in this as a charity; they're in this to make money."

Like the new lease, the 2005 lease gave Nassau County $1.5 million in annual rent. At the time, Nassau County officials said they were losing as much as $1.4 million a year in repairs and maintenance on the Coliseum alone. Under the 2005 lease and the new lease, according to sources, Wang took on all repairs and maintenance and got all revenue from ticket sales, parking and concessions.

But Nassau County legislative Minority Leader Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said those numbers mean little without knowing exactly what Wang and Rechler will build on the site.

"I want questions asked and answered to make sure it's prudent for the future to serve everyone's needs," said Schmitt, who had not yet been briefed on the new lease's contents. "This is supposed to change our footprint forever."

>> Click here to see plans for the Lighthouse project

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