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Maragos: Arena a good deal, with changes

A view of the Nassau Coliseum from the

A view of the Nassau Coliseum from the roof of the Marriott Hotel. (July 14, 2011) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A proposal to build a new Nassau Coliseum with up to $400 million in borrowed money "would be a good deal" if it guarantees that the owner of the Islanders will make promised payments and be responsible for construction cost overruns, the Nassau County comptroller said Thursday.

Comptroller George Maragos reviewed the proposed deal between County Executive Edward Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang to build a new arena in Uniondale, and said the agreement is still too "fluid" for his office to develop a firm economic analysis.

Maragos acknowledged at a news conference in Mineola that many of his concerns are being negotiated. If they are addressed, he said, "I think it would be a good deal."

Asked whether he was recommending a "yes" vote in an Aug. 1 referendum on the borrowing, he said, "I'm trying to give the voters [as much] information as possible to make an intelligent decision."

Mangano said he agreed with Maragos that developing the Coliseum area is "critical" for Nassau.

"Increasing the county's tax base and creating jobs is essential to helping stimulate our local economy and helping hold the line on property taxes. The comptroller's recommendations are already being negotiated by the county to further protect our residents," Mangano said.

Islanders' senior vice president Michael Picker said, "We're happy that the comptroller recognizes the need for economic development in Nassau County and we look forward to working with him to execute a final lease for a new arena for Nassau County."

Mangano wants voters on Aug. 1 to approve $400 million in borrowing to build the Coliseum and a minor league ballpark. He said the deal will keep the hockey team on Long Island for another 30 years, create 4,500 jobs and generate $403 million in revenue to help hold the line on property taxes.

Maragos expressed concern that Arenaco, a Delaware corporation formed by Wang to serve as the county's tenant, "has neither the assets nor credit history to stand behind its commitments on the minimum payments to the county and construction cost overruns." Arenaco "should guarantee its commitments on the minimum annual payment and payment of cost overruns," said the report.

Maragos also recommended that the county retain development rights on the 77 acres surrounding the Coliseum. Under the current deal, he said, development proposals would need Arenaco's approval.

If voters approve the referendum, the county legislature, Maragos and a state fiscal monitoring board would have to approve the lease. At the news conference, Maragos said he would say no, "if it's not a good deal at the end."

Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island and a critic of the proposed deal, said Maragos' report "only reaffirms what we have been saying -- specifically, that the county should retain the development rights on the 77 acres surrounding the Coliseum."

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