Eleven years ago this week, I drove around Nassau County as golf ball-sized hail bounced loudly across my windshield. Every few miles, I'd stop at a school, a library, or a community center that had been converted into a polling place for that summer day.
On Aug. 1, 2011, voters were deciding whether to use taxpayer funds to build a new Nassau Coliseum, a choice that would impact the future of the Coliseum, the New York Islanders, and the region.
After the results came in, a despairing Charles Wang, the late former owner of the Islanders, and a stoic Ed Mangano, then-county executive, emerged in the Coliseum basement, promising to keep trying but looking quite defeated, as their last-ditch referendum had failed.
It was there on that hot August night that I first began to believe that Nassau Coliseum and the land around it, known as the Nassau Hub, was cursed. Perhaps the Coliseum wasn't meant to be an economically vibrant centerpiece to a sports and entertainment hub. Perhaps the arena would never have its well-deserved upgrade, would never spark development that would bring good-paying jobs and activity to the area. Perhaps the Islanders wouldn't call the Coliseum home for much longer.
Perhaps, I thought then, the arena would end up dark, with nothing around it but asphalt.
More than a decade later, that mostly dark arena sits, surrounded by 72 acres of parking lot.
Over and over, people have tried. Politicians. Developers. Health care providers, business owners, even the leaders of the Shinnecock Indian Nation have tried. Over and over, their efforts have been stymied.
That's partly due to the refusal of elected officials to allow good development to happen. But there are too many twists and turns in the Coliseum saga to blame that alone.
The rejections of good plans and the proposals of bad ones. The Islanders' move to Brooklyn and back. The constant tenant changeover. The pandemic. The new UBS Arena at Belmont Park just a few miles to the west. A renovation that left the Coliseum with little more than a $100 million loan that hangs on it like an albatross. The vague rumblings that a casino could come to the Hub.
It seems anything that could stop progress at Nassau's most important tract of available land has.
So, maybe there really is something else going on. Maybe a supernatural power, or the ghosts of Islanders past, or Lord Stanley himself, or as the recently-revived "Into the Woods" might suggest, a witch, has placed a spell on the Old Barn.
Perhaps, as composer Stephen Sondheim might suggest, we need to have the curse … reversed.
Unfortunately, the elements of the musical's reversal recipe — a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold — are not in sight. And this isn't a fairy tale.
So it's up to developer Scott Rechler, EB-5 investment middleman Nick Mastrioanni, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, and Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin to find another way. This is likely the last best chance for the Nassau Hub. In about six months, Rechler's deal with the county could run out.
The answer might lie in eliminating the cursed facility altogether. Demolishing the Barn isn't simple, but it would provide a fresh start. And it might just rid the land of whatever dark force hovers over it.
Have a party. Raze the arena. And bring a cape and a cow — just in case.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.