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Murray: 'Flexible' zone eases Coliseum plan

An aerial view of Nassau Coliseum

An aerial view of Nassau Coliseum Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

A new effort to build at the Nassau Coliseum site could result in a faster, smoother, more successful development, in part because the town already has approved a mixed-use zone for the area, according to Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray.

With a new "flexible" zone approved in June, the town could forgo many approvals, except for potential variances or exceptions, Murray said this week, noting, "We have taken 85 percent of the angst for a developer out of the equation."

Hempstead's new zone allows for 5.4 million square feet of construction, compared with 8.8 million square feet in the $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project, which Islanders owner Charles Wang had proposed for the site six years ago. Hempstead also proposed a maximum of 500 housing units, compared with more than 2,300 units in the Lighthouse plan. Murray and the Hempstead town board had put the brakes on the Lighthouse project, saying it was too dense and didn't fit with the area's "suburban character."

But while some local developers said they had ideas for the 77 acres of land, they also noted the town's limit on total density might make any plan with an arena less feasible.

"Somebody has to see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and believe they can develop an awful lot to pay for it [the arena]," said Jericho developer Michael Dubb of the Beechwood Organization.

Some proposals might not include an arena, builders said. Construction could begin after the New York Islanders' lease expires in 2015 and the arena could be demolished.

"Because it's so valuable and so large, someone's really going to have to put time and energy into figuring out the appropriate mix and figuring out how to finance it," said Garden City developer Jan Burman of the Engel Burman Group. "If we look out 10 or 15 years, it could very well be the cornerstone of what turned Nassau County around."

The newly created Regional Economic Development Council will likely make the area known as the Hub a "very important item" on its agenda, according to Council co-chair Stuart Rabinowitz, president of Hofstra University. The Island's council, along with nine others, will vie for $1 billion in state funding.

Rabinowitz, meanwhile, said he planned to talk to officials at the North Shore-LIJ Health System to partner and generate new ideas for the site.

County Executive Edward Mangano's new proposal allows the land to be sold or leased, and opens the door for plans with and without a sports arena. County spokesman Brian Nevin said the "sports-entertainment destination" concept could take priority if they produce revenue, create jobs and improve quality of life.

Wang has said it is "economically unviable" to pay for an arena privately and build in the town's new zone.

Farmingdale developer Michael Posillico said the same "fundamental problems" remain because three parties -- a private developer, the county and the town -- have to agree on a plan and see it through.

To keep an arena, Wang could bid again or the Islanders could become a tenant of a private developer. Wang said Wednesday he is "not giving up on Long Island."

Advocates said they would like to see office and retail space and housing there. But some said the market isn't there for that now or in the immediate future.

"If I'm a betting man, you're looking at asphalt five years from now, and probably 10 years from now," Dubb said. "I just feel it's many, many years away."

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