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Laura Curran faces deadline on Nassau Hub project

An aerial view of the Nassau Coliseum on

An aerial view of the Nassau Coliseum on April 5, 2017. Nassau Executive Laura Curran has called for a "re-imagining" of the Hub property surrounding the arena. Credit: All Island Aerial / Kevin P. Coughlin

A ruling Nassau County Executive Laura Curran must make by Monday on construction of an entertainment and retail complex next to Nassau Coliseum could prompt a legal battle over the future of the 77-acre Hub property surrounding the arena, developers and real estate industry experts say.

Blumenfeld Development Group, based in Syosset, is asking Curran to reassign a lease on two parcels totaling 11 acres — known as the Coliseum Plaza — so the company can begin building an “arena district” of entertainment and retail space and, eventually, offices and housing.

Other developers and economic experts, however, are pressing Curran to reject Blumenfeld’s plan and solicit proposals from other builders. Projects could include a large technology company with high-paying jobs, housing for young people and a mass transit plan for the property, most of which is accessible only by car.

Curran, who took office Jan. 1, opened a new debate over what to do with the Hub property, the last remaining major tract of undeveloped county land. Last month, she called for a “re-imagining” of the entire Hub property, saying she did not want to develop the land piecemeal.

She said “the landscape had changed” since the Hub was last discussed because of a $1 billion proposal to build a new hockey arena for the New York Islanders at Belmont Park, along with an entertainment and retail complex.

Given the potential competition from the Islanders’ project, Curran administration officials say they would like to see a plan for the 77-acre Hub that includes space for a tech company or other major employer, housing and rapid bus service to the Mineola Long Island Rail Road station.

The immediate issue is the fate of the lease for the 11 acres that Blumenfeld officials say they have the rights to, after reaching an out-of-court settlement with former partner Forest City Ratner in February. Blumenfeld and Forest City — once partners to jointly develop the parcel — had been in a legal battle since 2015. The county had been granting extensions on the lease in 90- and 60-day increments, and the most recent lease extension will expire Monday.

An agreement drawn up under the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano gives Curran authority to grant another extension, reassign the lease to Blumenfeld or cancel it.

Awarding the lease to Blumenfeld could spark legal action from developers who believe the project has changed under the Curran administration, altering the original Request for Proposals issued three years ago under Mangano.

But Blumenfeld could sue if Curran does not award the company the lease.

“I’ve received a tremendous amount of input. Now I’m going to make my decision based on all of the expertise that has been shared with me,” Curran said in an interview.

Asked about the possibility of exposing the county to legal challenges, Curran said: “I’m confident we will be able to proceed without any litigation standing in the way of progress.”

But Ed Blumenfeld, Blumenfeld Development’s president and founder, said he and his firm “have the right to be at the table.”

He argued that, “if others wanted it [the lease], why didn’t they bid for it when it was originally up?

Blumenfeld is proposing an entertainment complex that would include an indoor golf driving range with a bar and grill, indoor skydiving, an arena for virtual sports competitions and shops and restaurants, according to draft plans presented at a public hearing on May 2.

“It’s a flexible plan. It will move a little bit as the market changes. But the idea is to get an anchor and create that reason to come here — and we think we can do that,” said David Blumenfeld, the company’s vice president and one of Ed Blumenfeld’s sons.

Curran’s administration and some county legislators say they are concerned about the long-term viability of the Blumenfeld project and whether it has the ability to compete with Belmont.

Mitch Pally, chief executive of Islandia-based Long Island Builders Institute, which represents about 550 developers, including 140 specializing in residential construction, is urging Curran to issue a new RFP so other firms can bid on the expanded development she now envisions. Pally said he believes several of his members would like to pitch their own plans.

“Mr. Blumenfeld is a great developer. Unfortunately, his litigation resulted in a delay. Let’s use the three-year delay to our advantage, not to our detriment,” said Pally.

Kevin Law, co-chairman of Long Island’s Regional Economic Development Council, a state advisory board that seeks to boost the local economy, noted that the state approved $85 million for a parking garage at the Hub in October 2016.

The State Legislature has included the money in each state budget since 2015-16, but prolonging the Hub redevelopment could put the funding in danger if lawmakers were to move to use it for other proposals.

Law, president of the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group, said he is pursuing another $20 million to lure a major employer to the Hub property and $28 million to build pedestrian bridges and launch a bus system at the site.

“All of these projects are doable, achievable and the money is there to implement them,” Law said.

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