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Q&A: What's next for the Coliseum?

The Nassau Coliseum opened in 1972. Voters will

The Nassau Coliseum opened in 1972. Voters will be asked on Aug. 1 to allow the county to borrow $400 million to build a new arena, an indoor track facility and possibly a minor-league baseball stadium (July 23, 2011). Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

On Monday, a referendum to borrow $400 million to build a new Nassau Coliseum failed.

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang has said he will honor his lease, which runs through 2015, but the future of the Islanders on Long Island and of the Coliseum are up in the air.

Reporter Randi Marshall answered questions from readers on what's next for the Coliseum. (Transcript below.) 


Moderator: Thanks for joining us today. Randi Marshall should be joining us soon to take your questions on what's next for Nassau Coliseum. Please submit your questions.

If you haven't read it already check out Randi's most recent story on Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray.

While we wait here is the video of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano talking about accepting proposals for privately financed plans to develop the Coliseum area.

Moderator: Randi Marshall is here. Let's answer some questions. Welcome Randi.

RM: Thanks to all for joining me today! It's been a busy week.

Can you explain how this RFP differs from the first RFP?

RM: County Exec Mangano suggests that this RFP will be more broad - it will entertain proposals that include an arena - and those that don't - and it will be open as to whether the land should be sold or leased...

RM: But the RFP itself hasn't been issued yet - so we're not quite sure about what the details will look like.

Why did so many people vote no because of a tax increase that was just going to be $13?

RM: There was a feeling among voters that any tax increase - no matter how small - was too much at this time. And there was a feeling among some we spoke with that taxes shouldn't go to fund a new arena.

What is allowed to go on the arena land besides an arena?

RM: All Mangano has said so far is that he wants the development that goes there to be revenue and jobs producing. The zone that Hempstead approves allows for a pretty wide variety of uses - including housing, retail and office space. It allows for an arena and incubator space for companies too.

Why can't Wang just build an arena in Nassau County himself?

RM: Wang has said that an arena on its own is not a financially profitable thing to build without other development in the area. The county has said it would cost a private investor more (in interest and fees) than it would have cost the county - so it's tougher to make a profit. (And Wang wouldn't get the tax revenue the county would have gotten either)

RM: Wang also notes that he tried the privately financed option before - in the Lighthouse Project - and couldn't get that approved.

Mary K Valentine:
Can't both counties find a way to work together on this?

RM: I think a solution involving both counties would be tricky. They don't share tax revenue - they don't share budgets - they don't share payrolls... I'm not sure how that would work - since the arena would have to be housed in one county or the other.

Chris Jacob:
What do you think the chances are that the islanders stay in Nassau?

RM: Well, I can't really put odds on it at this point - but I think the failure of the referendum certainly makes it more difficult. I am not sure Wang would want to start an RFP process over again - unless he could somehow gain assurance that it would succeed...

RM: But he might come up with some way to stay as a tenant of some other private developer willing to build an arena. That's why Mangano is seeking those options - to see what's possible.

Keith Gregory:
Why can't the existing Coliseum be refurbished?

RM: At this point, county and Islanders officials say it would need a full renovation to be brought up to the standard of other arenas. That could be as expensive or more expensive than a new arena. (Keep in mind, Wang's Lighthouse Project included a renovated arena - not a brand new one.)

Since Murray already shot down Wang's attempt to develop the area with private financing, bringing in tens of thousands of jobs to build as well as permanent ones once in operation. What's stopping her from dumbing this down again to just a simple refurb?

RM: A zone has been approved. So, anything that fits within the Hempstead zone should not require further town approvals. But if a developer comes up with something that requires more than what the zone allows, the town board - and Murray - would have to approve a variance or exception to allow it. So the board will continue to have a role in whatever is developed there.

Jeana Schauer Inzirillo:
Will they consider pilgrim state site or anywhere in Suffolk?

RM: From what Suffolk folks have said, Brentwood, Yaphank and Calverton would all be potential sites. But we haven't heard from Wang on whether he is seriously considering any of them - or how deep conversations have gone with Suffolk County.

If the "no" vote was a referendum on taxes, why would any project be voted "yes" if it is going to result in any tax increase?

RM: They did not want their taxes to go towards a new arena. Period. Some suggested they wanted it to be completely privately funded - some said they didn't care if the arena was there at all. Many seemed not to worry too much about whether the Islanders stayed - but they made it clear they did not want it on their dime.

did the islanders do anything at all to reach out to the older voters before the referendum and do you think thats what cost them the yes vote?

RM: I'm told both sides made calls in the days before the vote... but I don't know if specific efforts were made by the Islanders to reach out to older voters. I don't know that it would have made a difference - unless it was pitched completely differently. When proposed as a tax increase to fund a new arena - it wasn't going to fly with some voters.

Why not simply sell the land to Wang in 2015?

RM: You need to have a Request for Proposals process - you can't just sell county owned land to a single person without giving everyone a shot.

Besides those in the New York area, what other locales have the Islanders considered moving to? What is the status of arenas at these new locations? Are these other cities opening their arms (and pockets) to the Islanders?

RM: The Islanders say they're considering everything. That all options are on the table. Kansas City has been discussed before because the city has a new arena already built - with no primary tenant...

RM: Portland, Seattle, Hartford and Quebec have been discussed - but in many cases other cities would need to build a new arena first.

Why does Wang continue to let himself be used by the Nassau politicians? Why hasn't he had public discussions with other municipalities? He owes Nassau nothing. It's obvious Nassau politicians do not care about his team. He's been trying to get a new arena for 11 years, and he's not the first to be unsuccessful.

RM: I don't think he'd want his negotiations to sell or move the team to be public - that wouldn't make much sense in a business deal. But I do think he truly wanted to stay in Nassau County if possible - and that's why he tried the referendum route

With many NHL teams losing money, is there a city out there that would want to bid for the Islanders?

RM: According to Wang and folks close to him, there are absolutely places and people who are interested in the Islanders.

Do you feel they made it seem too much like an Islanders project and didn't highlight all the other uses the arena would provide?

RM: I do think the pitch became a bit too much about the Islanders - when many Nassau residents simply didn't care enough to make their vote about the Islanders. But they did try to focus on concerts, family shows, etc. I just think people saw it as their tax money going towards a hockey arena - and nothing more. If other economic development had been involved, it might have made the story a bit different - but that would have added to the cost.

how long will the RFP process take to play out once the bids are submitted by aug 12? i know its unclear at this point if wang will make a submission at all but what does your gut feeling tell you?

RM: It will take at least a few months to issue an official RFP. The Aug. 12 deadline is just for informal proposals. Then the official RFP process will begin once a Request is issued - then it takes a couple of months (or maybe less) to get all responses. I don't know if Wang would submit - I tend to think he wouldn't go through it again - but perhaps he'd partner with someone who would do much of the work and fund some of it so he didn't have to go through all of the steps again...

RM: Keep in mind that last year Wang said Murray's zone was not economically viable given the need to build a Coliseum.

Why wouldnt wang at this point just accept the scaled down lighthouse version?

RM: Wang has said it's not economically viable - that he needs more density and more construction to make it profitable if he is to privately fund a new Coliseum.

What about Isles @ MSG? It's not impossible, Lakers and Clippers share the Staples Center in LA.

RM: Two hockey teams and a basketball team seems like a lot for one arena - not sure how the calendar would work.

Does anybody who has looked at this thing closely honestly believe you can build an arena without a huge amount of adjacent development, which the town's zoning won't allow, or public money, which is obviously now off the table? It just seems impossible that there's a way to keeping an arena over ther.

RM: That's why Mangano is floating the need for informal proposals - he wants to know whether anyone indeed thinks it's possible. Developers said before the vote that they had wished there had been opportunity for them to pitch ideas - this is their chance...

RM: But many developers say it may be challenging to make the numbers work if funding an arena is part of the deal... Someone might come up with a creative solution, though. Time will tell.

Is building a casino now back on the table?

RM: I think they're sticking with Belmont as the potential site for that. It just got too much negative feedback from Hofstra and others. I'd be really surprised if it's brought back to the Coliseum site in any serious way.

do you feel that a lot of people who voted no were aware of what could happen as far as the building closing, loss of jobs and loss of tax revenue? I feel like people were under the impression things would just continue the way they are

RM: I think some thought it would stay the way it was, certainly. Some didn't buy the idea that the Islanders would leave and the building would close. But others didn't care if the Coliseum closed because they said that in the end, they expected something would be built there that could generate tax revenue - even if it wasn't an arena.

How feasible is it for the county to sell the property and Coliseum to let's say Charles Wang? And if Charles was to get the property does Kate Murray still have a say?

The county needs to go through the Request for Proposals process - if Charles Wang wants to offer to buy the land, he can - and the county will evaluate his proposal. The county has said proposals with the sports entertainment destination concept would get priority - assuming they were good for the county job wise and $$ wise....

RM: And yes, Murray and the Hempstead town board will still have a say. If the proposal meets their zone requirements, then they should be okay with it... but if the proposal requires changes to the zone, they could object. Murray has said the zone is "flexible" and could accommodate larger building heights, etc

Why does Mangano want proposals by August 12? That seems like not much time.

RM: Mangano says this is just an initial effort to see what's out there and what's possible so they can craft the actual Request for Proposals to accommodate builders' ideas and plans. The county says it's an informal part of the process -and if developers don't submit an idea by the 12th they can still submit to the actual RFP

Christopher Mauceri:
Now that privately-funded development seems the way to go, will there be any chance of Charles Wang's Lighthouse Project being brought back to the table?

RM: No. The town of Hempstead has approved a zone with significantly less density. There's no chance that the original Lighthouse Project will be resurrected because the board would never approve the density (unless, perhaps, the entire leadership of the town changed hands.)... But a "Lighthouse Lite" - with far less density - is possible.

Shouldn't the communities closest to the area have more say. The voter turnout showed that the people who really don't care what happens, never see have to see it. The ones who will have their lives affected by it are the ones nearby.

RM: When tax dollars are involved, the entire county had to have a say - in a vote, there's not a way to have some votes count more than others. But if it is privately developed, the local communities will certainly have say since it will be up to the town to ultimately approve what goes there.

Given what we know about the reasons for the defeat of the Lighouse project & the referendum (Can't be too tall, can't increase traffic congestion, can't compete with the stores/malls especially those in G. City, can't use public funds & can't increase garbage/sewage concerns for the area), what exactly can be built there?

RM: The town says plenty can be built there - just on a far smaller scale than Lighthouse. They propose buildings with up to 4 stories in height - up to 500 housing units - and then retail, office space, etc. It's just a lot less than what Wang proposed under Lighthouse. The question is: is that sustainable or possible with an arena built with private funds?

RM: A note: Many developers say there's a lot that can be built there when they don't have to worry about funding an arena. It's the cost of the arena that makes the economics difficult... But Mangano is testing the waters to see what's possible. Maybe someone will have an idea to make it work that's totally different from Lighthouse or Lighthouse Lite.

Eric B:
Do you believe Mangano has spent all his political capital on this project? The perception, accurate or not, is that he tried to pull a fast one on the taxpayers by laying off county employees to fund the $2 million special election on a Monday in August.

RM: Officials say folks may not blame Mangano for this failed measure. Mangano has firmly said that the layoffs were considered long before the election - and were not directly connected to it at all - and some think he can recover from this. (See a good column by my colleague Dan Janison in today's paper)

Moderator: This is the Dan Janison column that Randi referred to: "Mangano may recover from Coliseum defeat"

rich p:
when the original colisseum was bult who paid for it. and how much did it cost the tax payers at that time. Isn't this the same thing?

RM: It was built with public funds - I believe it cost about $30 million. Nassau County was a very different place - it wasn't nearly as built up - and taxes weren't as high.

Why didn't they make the rent at least $28 Million which would have covered the Dept interest and principal payments?

RM: Because Wang likely wouldn't have agreed to that. They negotiated a deal - and the $14 million floor was what they came up with. My feeling is the county started from much higher - Wang started from much lower - and they came to the number as something in the middle.

J. CO.:
why wouldnt wang just build the arena himself, lease the property from the county, and reap all of the benefits of parking, concessions, tickets, etc...

Wouldnt it make perfect sense to have a retractable dome that would boost walk- up sales of tickets on nights that the dome was open? This would be a great attraction for a family that would like a different experience and would attract new fans of all ages.

RM: To J. CO: He could, if he chooses to apply for the RFP. But it's a pricey endeavor - and would apparently cost him more than it cost the county in interest.

RM: To Dave: Not sure about a retractable dome for hockey unless they had another team that would want an outdoor stadium. Retractable domes are pretty pricey.

Do you think Mangano's "rush" has anything to do with the Willets Point RFP date?

RM: I doubt it though anything is possible. The first phase of the Willets Point project doesn't include the convention center that's planned for that space (keep in mind there's no arena officially permitted in the project parameters) It's doubtful anyone would propose an arena in the first phase of the project anyway. And Wang was not one of the approved developers on the Willets Point property though he could partner with someone who is (i.e. Sterling or Beechwood in particular...)

RM: But since the Willets Point date has been moved to Sept. 9 - I don't think Mangano's timetable would allow for RFP decisions in Nassau before RFPs have to be filed and completed in Queens.

How much revenue is the County bringing in/losing with the current coliseum?

RM: A little over $1 million a year in actual revenue - plus tax revenue (which in 2015 dollars, the consultants said, amounted to about $8 million a year)

rich p:
the building is owned by the county. why not name it like many of the other ballparks, fields etc do. This would offset any potential tax increases everyone is afraid of. Oh 30 million dollars with a smaller tax base back then means more higher rates of taxes for the residents at that time.

RM: Under the current lease, they can't - the current lease requires the name to be the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum - but after 2015, with a new lease, they could permit naming rights. Naming rights alone would NOT pay for the entire debt service of a new arena however. Naming rights were included in the proposed lease for the revenue sharing that was just turned down.

I think a lot of people have trouble understanding why if this would have yielded profits for the county why Wang wouldn't find it profitable to do it himself. While I understand that the county says that public financing is cheaper, but how much cheaper? Has anyone dug into the math on that?

RM: That's something we hope to address in the coming days, as proposals for a new development plan come forward It's unclear right now how much more $$ it would take to privately finance an arena.

Call me cynical, but it's my perspective that those with the most to gain by having the lighthouse project and referendum fail were those who were most vocal in speaking against the referendum and the lighthouse project. I hope Newsday stays on top of the RFP process to expose any connections between the eventual winning bidders and those legislators who were also most vocally against the referendum and lighthouse project. It would be a shame if self-interest took precedence over the best interest of the County as a whole, but there's way too much money involved here to think otherwise.

RM: We promise to keep on top of all angles of this story.

There used to be talk have creating a transportation "hub" with links to the LIRR as part of the development on the site. There hasn't been anything said recently about that. Would including such a "hub" increase the chance of getting something built there?

RM: Sure. Several advocates for developing a dense mixed use project at the site note that with more infrastructure dollars, more could be built at the site. The more that can be done to improve infrastructure, the higher the chances that traffic could be accommodated and more could be built - but those infrastructure dollars haven't come through from any sources as of now, so those improvements aren't being seriously considered at the moment...

RM: BUT I find the presence of the new Councils introduced by the Governor to be an interesting piece of this puzzle. Our LI Council will vie with 9 others for $1 billion in development funds... I wonder whether any of that state funding could be helpful with the Hub.

What happens if developers propose ideas without an arena for Mangano's new plan?

RM: If they produce lots of revenue, lots of jobs and are good for quality of life - Mangano says he'd consider them seriously.

In the end, what's maddening about this situation is that it all stems from the county's level of indebtedness, which is a direct function of its utter inability to fix the assessment process. It's a problem that has existed under Democrats and Republicans. So why is an action that thousands of municipalities do without any big problem -- assessing the value of a piece of property and levying a tax against it -- such a huge problem here?

RM: The timing is part of it - people just really didn't want a tax increase of any kind right now. But yes, the assessment system continues to be an issue for the county that folks say needs to be addressed.

Moderator: We'll be wrapping the live chat up soon. Last three questions.

How much would it cost to demolish and decommission the arena and would the county or developer be responsible for that?

RM: The developer would be responsible for it under a completely privately financed plan. Developers say that would not be a problem if they are able to build profit making development on that land. Not sure the exact cost of demolishment - though folks said that of the $350 mil that was to be spent on a new Coliseum, $30 million or so was going to go to pre-construction costs, including demolishing the building - tho other costs were folded into that too.

after 2015 when the islanders move to queens and wang builds his lighthouse in willis point. for how long after will the "hub" be just a parking lot for drug dealers and gangs?

RM: Some folks say something could be built pretty quickly - but others (see today's story) say it could remain vacant for a while.

Why r they limiting the height of any construction to 4 floors when the marriot is more than that?

RM: The four story limit is for housing and retail - there's a higher limit (that corresponds with the height of the Marriott) for a new hotel.

RM: Thanks to all for joining me today!!

Moderator: Thanks to everyone who joined us today.

You can read all Randi's stories on or Newsday. And you can follower her for updates on Twitter at:

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