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Nassau Hub developers: 'One more chance to get it right'

BSE Global, RXR Realty unveil new aspects of the project, including plans for two hotels on property around NYCB Live. County lawmakers could vote by December.

A conceptual illustrative rendering of the Nassau Hub

A conceptual illustrative rendering of the Nassau Hub project. Photo Credit: RXR, BSE Global

The first phase of a $1.5 billion development to transform 72 acres of asphalt around NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum into a residential and commercial district could begin by the end of next year, as project developers expanded their vision by adding two new hotels.

For the first time, project developers Brett Yormark, chief executive of Brooklyn-based BSE Global, and Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of Uniondale-based RXR Realty, laid out a time frame to secure legislative approval, state funding and community backing for development of the Nassau Hub.

"This may be our last chance to redevelop the Hub," Yormark said in an interview Monday. "We are only going to get one more chance to get it right."

The developers also unveiled plans for two new hotels on the Uniondale property — the last major tract of undeveloped county land. The 615-room Long Island Marriott, which recently underwent a $10 million renovation, is next to the arena.

The GOP-controlled Nassau Legislature will hold a public hearing Nov. 27 on an amended Hub lease agreement that gives developers the green light to pursue the project. The plan calls for the construction of 500 units of housing; 600,000 square feet of office and biotech research space; and 200,000 square feet of "experiential retail,"  which are stores that provide additional services for customers, such as yoga or cooking classes.

County lawmakers could vote on the agreement by December with developers breaking ground on the first phase of construction — two parking garages, new medical or research buildings and some initial entertainment options — one year later, Rechler said. 

After two decades of project delays, bitter political infighting and protracted litigation, project developers say the time is now to transform the underused Hub property into a 21st century walkable village that will attract young people to live, work and visit.

Rechler, who was part of two previous failed efforts to redevelop the site, said this project is different, with a focus on building ground-up community support. The developers plan to hold meetings with local mayors, civic groups, religious institutions, school districts and business leaders to secure support.

"This process is designed to succeed," Rechler said. "We are accepting the [Town of Hempstead's] low-density zoning and are flexible with the community. This is not a 'take it or leave it' strategy."

State funds critical

The plan is contingent on Nassau securing state funding for three critical elements.

In 2016, Empire State Development, the state's primary business development agency, committed $85 million to build a pair parking garages that would have a combined 3,400 spaces. An additional 3,100 blacktop parking spots will remain at the Hub while RXR Plaza and the Omni building — both Rechler properties — would provide added parking during construction and events, he said.

While the development plans have changed in recent years, state officials said those dollars are still available. 

"The state is working with the county to provide the $85 million that’s been included in the budget for critical economic development work," said Empire State Development spokesman Adam Kilduff. "And we are currently working with local officials on new opportunities for these funds to be allocated toward a suitable project at this site that will strengthen the community and bolster the local economy."

The state previously committed $50 million to help Northwell Health's Feinstein Institute for Medical Research build a Center for Bioelectronic Medicine at the Hub. But Feinstein pulled out of the project last year, citing cost, and the state permitted Northwell to use $30 million of those funds to upgrade their existing facilities.

County officials are hoping to use the remaining $20 million to lure an anchor life sciences firm, said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, who has been advocating for the funding.

Rechler said he has been negotiating with Mount Sinai Health Network to build a 100,000-square-foot medical research facility at the Hub.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center also owns and operates an outpatient facility on the southwest corner of the property. Negotiations are ongoing with several other firms to take space next to Sloan, Rechler said.

The county also will seek $20 million in state funding for three pedestrian bridges to connect the Hub to RXR Plaza, Hofstra University and Nassau Community College. An additional $10 million to $20 million could be available from the state for a bus rapid transit system to connect the Hub to the Mineola and Hempstead Long Island Rail Road stations, Law said.

"For the first time in 20 years, I am feeling really optimistic that something good is actually going to happen here," he said. 

Destination Nassau

Rechler contends the Hub's unique mix of retail, entertainment and life sciences will make it a "destination" point to attract visitors from throughout the region. To support those crowds, Rechler is planning two hotels — one providing "limited services" and the other a more traditional "high-end" facility.

"We are creating a village within a downtown," he said. "We think the market can absorb the additional hotels."

A spokesman for the Starwood Capital Group, a private investment group, and the Witkoff Group, a New York developer, which owns the Long Island Marriott, did not respond to requests for comment.

The developers must still obtain site plan approval and building permits from the Town of Hempstead and negotiate a revenue sharing agreement with the county. 

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat who took office in January, said she agrees with the developer's timetable and urged lawmakers to move quickly to approve the amended lease.

"This is going to be an incredibly transformative project," Curran said. "We drive by this property every day and see nothing but empty space. But this development will change this empty district into a place where people can shop, live, work and go out to dinner."

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, called the proposal "the best use of the Hub" and "a sign that Long Island is looking forward and embracing smart growth in an impactful way."

A 2013 lease agreement signed by former County Executive Edward Mangano and the project's former developer, Bruce Ratner, would have paid the county a minimum of 8 percent of the gross revenue from the entertainment facilities surrounding the Coliseum, or $400,000 per year — whichever is greater. Rechler said that agreement did not contemplate a more thorough development of the Hub and that new terms will be negotiated.

"This will create significant amount of tax dollars and have an economic development effect, not just for the site but the broader community," Rechler said.

The lease amendment will recognize BSE Global's right to support or reject development around the arena. BSE Global, formerly known as Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, holds a 49-year lease to the property. 

County lawmakers, which must approve the amended lease, said it's essential surrounding neighborhoods play a role in the direction of the project.

"What is built here will shape the county and the surrounding communities for decades to come," said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Uniondale), who represents the area around the Hub. "That is why this site must be developed. But it must be developed correctly, and input from community stakeholders is essential for achieving this goal."

Years of frustration

County officials for years have sought to redevelop the sprawling property off the Meadowbrook Parkway and Hempstead Turnpike.

In 2004, New York Islanders owner Charles Wang proposed the Lighthouse Project, which included a renovated sports arena, 2,300 housing units, 1 million square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of retail and a luxury hotel. Rechler was involved with Wang as a partner. The $3.8 billion plan ultimately was rejected by the Town of Hempstead, which objected to the size and scope. 

A 2011 referendum by Mangano to borrow up to $400 million to renovate the Nassau Coliseum and build a minor league baseball stadium at the Hub was rejected by taxpayers, and Wang eventually moved the Islanders to Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

"Over the years, multiple efforts to develop this property have failed," said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). "We will do our part to make sure this new plan provides for a realistic development that will be realistic in scope and financially viable."

Curran called for "a re-imagining" of the Hub property in light of a proposal to build a new $1 billion arena for the Islanders at Belmont Park. The Islanders will play 60 games at NYCB Live over the next three seasons as the team waits for construction of the Belmont arena.

In June, the administration issued a request for expressions of interest to solicit ideas from developers. The county received 17 proposals, including one from BSE and RXR.

But the project could face opposition from Syosset developer Ed Blumenfeld, who partnered with Ratner on the retail and entertainment complex but split over the direction. The sides sued each other but reached an out-of-court settlement in February, allowing Blumenfeld the opportunity to propose a development plan for the 11-acre parcel known as the Coliseum Plaza. 

In May, Curran said she would not renew Blumenfeld's lease for the Coliseum Plaza and rejected his pitch to build an "arena district" with entertainment, retail, housing and restaurants.

Blumenfeld has suggested he could bring suit to stop the development. “Irrespective of 'vision' presentations, there remains the unpleasant fact that this latest selection process for the Hub was little more than a thinly constructed veil to provide favored party status to a specific developer," Blumenfeld said.

The Curran administration says Blumenfeld signed an agreement in April promising not to sue. "The last thing any of us want," Curran said, "is more delays."

HISTORY OF HUB PROPOSALS

  • 1998: County Executive Thomas Gulotta, a Republican, urges construction of a new arena for the New York Islanders by the 2001 hockey season. Then-Islanders owners Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern fail to come to an agreement with SMG, the Coliseum lease partner.
  • 2004: County Executive Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, secures a bid from Islanders owner Charles Wang who proposed the Lighthouse Project with partner Scott Rechler, chief executive of RXR Realty. The $3.8 billion project is rejected by the Town of Hempstead. Wang ultimately moved the team to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.
  • 2011: County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, asks voters to support spending up to $400 million to rebuild the Coliseum and create a minor league baseball stadium. Voters reject the referendum question.
  • 2013: Mangano chooses Bruce Ratner to develop the site and Edward Blumenfeld becomes a partner. The two developers then sue each other in a dispute over the direction of the project.
  • 2014: Mangano pitches another plan to create a biotech park innovation center, housing and a minor league ballpark.
  • 2016: Memorial Sloan Kettering plans a cancer center for five acres of the property. The proposal becomes the first building on the property around the Coliseum. Backers secure $85 million in state grant money to build two parking garages.
  • 2018: County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, considers a proposal by Blumenfeld, founder of Blumenfeld Development Group in Syosset, for an “arena district” with retail, entertainment, housing and office space. Curran rejects the plan.
  • September 2018: Curran backs a $1.5 billion plan by BSE Global, operators of the Coliseum, to develop the site with RXR Realty. The plan is pending approval by the Republican-controlled Nassau County Legislature.

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