An aerial view in May 2011 of Nassau Coliseum and...

An aerial view in May 2011 of Nassau Coliseum and the land surrounding it in Uniondale. Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

When Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta stood before county legislators for his State of the County address in 1998, he painted a picture of what he hoped the land around Nassau Coliseum would look like. 

A new arena, to open by 2001. A convention center, a hotel, some shops.

The Legislature's presiding officer at the time? Bruce Blakeman. 

A quarter-century later, Blakeman is the county executive painting a new picture of what he hopes the county-owned land known as the Nassau Hub will look like within the next few years. The latest plan — a casino resort that might or might not include the bones of the existing Coliseum — is very different.

So, too, is the lease behind it.

Gulotta faced one enormous roadblock to his plan: the property's existing lease, then a three-way agreement among Nassau County, the New York Islanders, and the Coliseum's management company.

First negotiated in 1979, that lease always was a bad deal for the county and the Islanders. It seemed to benefit just one party — the management company known as Hyatt Management Corp. of New York, later called SMG.

Behind the lease was a familiar face. Alfonse D'Amato, later to become a U.S. senator, was supervisor of Hempstead Town and a member of the Nassau County board of supervisors when the original lease was signed. D'Amato later switched sides and served as SMG's lawyer and top negotiator, responsible for later incarnations of the lease, including one approved in 1986 that locked the Islanders and the county into the lousy deal until 2015. Years after he played the role of key broker in luring Charles Wang to buy the Islanders in 2000, D'Amato's impact rippled again when he opposed Wang's $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project, in part because he didn't want significant housing or height at the Hub.

Through it all, the lease was the all-important linchpin, giving the D'Amato-represented management middleman tremendous power and control and making it nearly impossible for the county to squeeze value out of what should have been one of its most valuable assets. The unconscionable deal remains a prime reason 70 acres of asphalt remain undeveloped today.

In reading the hundreds of pages of lease documents now, it's astonishing just how awful the agreement was for Nassau County. The county was responsible for most maintenance, repairs and upgrades. Even in instances when costs were supposed to be reimbursed, the county often had to fight for funds. Nassau got just a thin slice of rent and revenue from parking and concessions, with few guarantees, and the county even reimbursed SMG for most taxes, outside of sales tax.

Every effort by the county or the Islanders to break the lease, or have someone buy it out, or loosen its terms to make development easier, failed. In essence, SMG held the keys to the county's land.

So nothing happened. Since the SMG deal expired in 2015, the lease has changed hands like a hot potato — from Forest City Ratner to Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment to Onexim to the Coliseum's current tenant, Nick Mastroianni II.

Blakeman's proposed lease with Las Vegas Sands, which the county Legislature will vote on next week, bears little similarity to the documents of the past. It offers a remarkably better breakdown of revenue, responsibilities, promises and guarantees. What comes of it remains to be seen. But for the first time, the lease is not an impediment to the county's decadeslong attempt to get value for its very valuable land.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.

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