Nassau County's largest economic development project, on the 72-acre Hub property surrounding Nassau Coliseum, could break ground as early as March under an "aggressive" new timeline set out by developers and county officials, Newsday has learned.
With the removal of capacity restrictions imposed on large venues and gathering spaces during the coronavirus pandemic, master developer RXR Realty and Nassau County and Hempstead Town officials say they are pushing ahead with plan approvals for the site, which has lain dormant for decades.
Scott Rechler, RXR's CEO and chairman, said the "pandemic has only reinforced the importance of the Hub as an economic generator for Nassau County."
In a statement to Newsday, Rechler said the project "will not only create a new dynamic live, work, play community in the heart of Long Island, but, equally important, it will create thousands of new jobs and will be instrumental in supporting Long Island’s recovery."
Most of the $1.5 billion project will be privately financed, and the state will provide funding for parking garages and supporting infrastructure.
WHAT TO KNOW
After delays during the coronavirus pandemic, a $1.5 billion project to redevelop the 72-acre Hub property surrounding Nassau Coliseum could break ground as early as March, 2022.
Plans submitted in 2018 included 500 units of housing, and up to 800,000 square feet of office, biotech research space and “experiential retail.”
Revisions prompted by the pandemic include residential options featuring home office or open workspaces.
Original plans for the Hub project proposed in 2018 included 500 units of housing and up to 800,000 square feet of office space, biotech research space and "experiential retail," plus transportation improvements and two new parking garages.
Rechler and his development team said that while COVID-19 put the proposal on hold, the pandemic reaffirmed the usefulness of many initiatives in the original design to create a "live-work-play" and walkable gathering spot on the Hub site in Uniondale.
RXR spokesman David Garten cited pent-up demand in the entertainment market after more than a year of pandemic restrictions.
"We see a reopening happening," Garten said, citing a rise in leasing activity in the region's commercial real estate market. "We think there’s incredible demand for safe gathering spaces."
"The timeline is aggressive but given the strong leadership of the county and the town, there is no reason we won't be able to meet it," Garten said.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat who is up for reelection in November, said reopening of the Coliseum and development of the Hub remain priorities.
'We are reimagining the Hub to reflect our new post-COVID reality.'Nassau County Executive Laura Curran
"Our commitment to the project has never wavered, and we are reimagining the Hub to reflect our new post-COVID reality — including an added emphasis on health care and innovation uses, and residential options that feature home office or open workspaces," Curran said in a statement to Newsday.
NASSAU HUB PROJECT
Location: The 72-acre property surrounding Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale.
Cost: $1.5 billion. Largely privately financed, along with state funding for parking garages and supporting infrastructure.
Elements*: 500 housing units; up to 800,000 square feet of office, biotech research space and “experiential retail"; two new parking garages; transportation improvements.
*Under original 2018 plans
Source: RXR Realty; Nassau County Photo credit: Newsday/ Jeffrey Basinger
Breaking ground on the Hub project would mark a turning point after decades of failed proposals, political infighting and yearslong litigation that have held up work on the county's last major tract of undeveloped land.
In 2004, when Democratic Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi held office, Rechler and then-New York Islanders owner Charles B. Wang proposed the $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project. Plans called for 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.
The Republican-led Town of Hempstead rejected the plan, citing concerns about traffic and a possible influx of students into the Uniondale schools.
The Lighthouse plan collapsed and Wang, who died in 2018, eventually took the Islanders to Brooklyn.
In 2011, during the administration of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, Nassau voters rejected a referendum to approve county spending of up to $400 million to rebuild the Coliseum and construct an adjacent minor league baseball stadium.
Two years later, Mangano chose another plan by Barclay's Center developer Bruce Ratner to renovate the Coliseum. Partnering developer Ed Blumenfeld, of Syosset, proposed a large adjacent retail and entertainment complex.
But Ratner and Blumenfeld split over the direction of the project, and ended up suing each other.
Ratner went ahead with a $250 million renovation of the Coliseum, which reopened in April 2017.
Officials projected Nassau County would receive about $3.7 million in annual sales tax revenues from the arena, along with $2.7 million to $2.9 million a year in sales taxes from the retail and entertainment complex, which was never built.
In 2018, Curran forged a partnership between RXR and BSE, which operated the Barclay's Center and also held the Coliseum lease. The Republican-controlled Nassau County Legislature approved the partnership through an amendment to the Coliseum lease.
But problems continued.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov sold BSE and his majority interest in the Brooklyn Nets in August 2019.
By June 2020, during the pandemic shutdown, Prokhorov had defaulted on both the Coliseum lease and $100 million in debt from the arena's renovation, despite attempts by Curran administration officials to negotiate with him.
Nassau Live Center, operated by Florida-based real estate financier Nick Mastroianni II, assumed Prokhorov’s partnership rights with RXR in August 2020.
Mastroianni, who holds the Coliseum lease, has said he expects to share his plans for the arena in the coming months.
Now, a potential competitor to the Coliseum — a $1.3 billion arena for the Islanders along with a retail and entertainment complex — is rising on state-owned at Belmont Park, just 15 miles from the Coliseum. The UBS Arena is on track to open this fall.
"While the uncertainty of the pandemic and the departure of the former Coliseum tenant delayed plans for the HUB, the project is very much on track," Curran said in emailed responses to Newsday questions.
"The Town [of Hempstead] is reviewing the plans submitted by the Hub developer, the community is re-engaged and we are working toward a groundbreaking in early 2022," Curran said.
Some developers and county lawmakers say the Hub project may benefit from the impact of the pandemic. Cultural shifts toward work from home has RXR doubling down on amenities and coworking spaces, officials said.
"There are trends in residential housing that change from decade to decade but the flexibility to work from home is here to stay," Rebecca D’Eloia, RXR project executive, said in an interview.
RXR executives say in the "reimagining of the site plans" they are mindful that remote delivery of health care has taken over a larger part of the market.
With Northwell Health signed as an anchor tenant of the Hub project, plans to construct health care innovation space likely will be prominent in revised plans, developers and local officials said.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin, a Republican, said the Hub "plans are going to be modified — the whole world is on a reset," but called the project "the shot in the arm we all need."
Senior Hempstead Town Council member Dorothy Goosby, co-chairperson of Curran's 15-member Nassau Hub Community Benefits Advisory Committee, said the pandemic "didn't halt the project, just slowed it down."
Goosby said the committee in future meetings will work with community groups to identify the needs of residents in the areas surrounding the development so agreement on a community benefits plan can be reached before the groundbreaking.
"We are not giving up; we are going to win this one," Goosby said.
'I have been trying to move things along at the Hub for the last 10 years, and I've never been more optimistic.'Kevin Law, former president and CEO of the Long Island Association
Kevin Law, the committee's other co-chair and a former president and CEO of the Long Island Association, said the political environment and market demand following the pandemic have boosted his optimism about the Hub project.
"I have been trying to move things along at the Hub for the last 10 years, and I've never been more optimistic," said Law, a partner and executive vice president with Tritec Real Estate Co., based in East Setauket.
Unlike past attempts to redevelop the Hub, Democrats and Republicans in county and Hempstead Town government agree on a conceptual plan that conforms with local zoning, Law said.
The prospect of shovels in the ground in nine months is the closest any development plan for the site has ever come, Law noted.
"Neither side wants a failure to happen on their watch," he said.
Drone footage by Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger