The supervisors of Suffolk’s two largest towns have urged the county to cancel an agreement for a $1.1 billion development including a sports arena in Ronkonkoma, calling the selection process “fatally flawed” because the developers' credentials are in question.
“From start to finish the process has failed the taxpayers and the community,” said Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine and his Islip counterpart, Angie Carpenter, both Republicans, in a joint letter to Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy. They asked Kennedy to launch an audit of the process.
The officials, citing a Sept. 9 Newsday story about the project, said Suffolk County “failed in its basic due diligence” by not verifying “one of its partner’s claims that it had developed an arena in the Seattle area, despite the fact that such a verification required a simple phone call.”
The letter dated Sept. 12 refers to Ronkonkoma Vision Project LLC's assertion last winter in bidding documents that it was “in the midst of all logistics with design and construction” of a sports arena outside Seattle. But a spokeswoman for Tukwila, Washington, where the Seattle-area arena was to be built, said “no substantive work” had occurred since 2015, the story said.
The story also raised questions about the involvement of Ronkonkoma Vision officials in projects connected to a commercial complex next to the Buffalo Sabres hockey arena, a hockey arena project at Penn State University and a film studio in Las Vegas.
Ronkonkoma Vision Project and Jones Lang LaSalle were selected in April to develop plans for a project that includes and a 17,500-seat arena, a 500-room hotel, housing and medical research, office, restaurant and retail space.
In June, the county legislature voted to give the Jones Lang LaSalle group eight months to assess its proposal's feasibility and flesh out its plans. Ronkonkoma Vision Project is responsible for providing the funding for the project, a Jones Lang LaSalle official has said.
Carpenter and Romaine also said they were “concerned and disappointed” that town officials “have been excluded from any planning process involving the future of this regional asset.”
They said the two towns were left out even though County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, made a pact with them in 2015 to create a “Regional Planning Alliance” to meet quarterly on joint issues. They say Bellone never called a meeting.
In response to the letter, Bellone spokesman Jason Elan said in a statement: "This project has been community driven from the beginning and the County role has been simply to facilitate their vision. We will be happy to share the Supervisors' concerns with the community while continuing to work with all stakeholders."
Bruce Edwards, who was president of the Ronkonkoma Civic Association at the time the project was under discussion, discounted the supervisors' complaints.
Edwards said the fact the deal for an arena in the Seattle area fell through came up in community discussions, and that a representative of Islip’s Industrial Development Agency participated.
“It’s politics as usual,” Edwards said, “Somebody has a chance to throw a stone.”
Romaine and Carpenter also said Bellone rushed to embrace the project within 48 hours of losing a breach of contract lawsuit for reneging on a deal to allow installation of solar panels at the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station that legislative critics say will cost as much as $15 million.
“The county must rescind the award and engage in a better process that puts communities and taxpayers first,” said Romaine and Carpenter, written on the stationary of the Suffolk County Supervisors Association.
Kennedy said he will “seriously consider” the request for a review of the selection process.