Does Nassau Coliseum have one more Stanley Cup run left in it?
Nassau County officials, developer Scott Rechler, and others certainly aren’t giving up on the old barn without a fight.
Last week, the county sent a default notice to Onexim Sports & Entertainment, the operator of the Coliseum, and threatened to terminate the arena lease if Onexim doesn’t pay the rent it owes — nearly $2.1 million — within 15 days.
At first glance, that might seem like the beginning of the end for the Coliseum. But don’t write the arena’s obituary just yet. County officials, Rechler, and others seem to be ready to throw anything at the problem, to find a way to reopen the arena and move forward on developing the land around it.
That starts with the default notice, which Nassau officials hope will be a way to make sure the New York Islanders are able to play the 2020-2021 season at the Coliseum — assuming the coronavirus pandemic allows that to happen.
And in the longer term, they want to make sure that development of the land around the arena, known as the Nassau Hub, moves forward.
“We can’t take a passive role here,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told Newsday. “We have to get some control and some constructive conversation going, and we really have to lead it if we can.”
By filing a default notice, Nassau officials seek to encourage Onexim’s lender — a group known as Nassau Coliseum Funding 100, LLC — to come to the table and work with the county, Onexim, and Hub master developer Rechler on finding a way forward. That could include reopening the Coliseum.
This isn’t the first time Nassau County has dealt with unpaid rent on the Coliseum. In late 2014, the New York Islanders and SMG, which then jointly held the arena lease, owed the county nearly $5 million — money that eventually was mostly paid back.
Complicating matters now, however, is that Onexim has a $100 million loan with Nassau Coliseum Funding 100 that’s due next year, and is secured by the Coliseum lease. Behind the lending group: Nick Mastroianni, a Huntington native who has raised money through the controversial EB-5 visa program, which provides visas to wealthy foreign investors, primarily from China, in exchange for funding job-creating projects. Mastroianni is controversial himself, with a history of legal troubles.
Still, the county expects Mastroianni, and the consortium of EB-5 lenders who are awaiting their payments, will be key to making the deal that could bring the Islanders home next season — and to moving forward with the big-picture economic development Nassau needs.
Part of any agreement among the county, lender, and developer will involve finding a new operator for the arena. And, as Newsday’s Jim Baumbach and Candice Ferrette reported last week, one might be waiting in the wings. Oak View Group, which will operate the new Belmont Park arena, would take on the Coliseum’s operations — if it doesn’t have to take on the $100 million in arena debt.
That, of course, is an enormous “if.” And it explains why the county’s efforts to connect directly with the lender are so important. But the possibility that the same operator could manage both the Belmont arena and the Coliseum makes sense. Certainly, it may provide a path for good development around the arena — something Long Island will need desperately. And it could pave the way for the Islanders to return to Long Island next year — for good.
Randi F. Marshall is a member of Newsday's editorial board.