What do Disney on Ice, Monday Night Raw, Monster Jam and a New York Islanders home opener have in common?
Fans will once again get the chance to catch all of them on Long Island. But they’ll have to travel to the UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
As for that facility in Uniondale? The one long promised to be Long Island’s premier entertainment destination? The one that once annually housed such beloved events and more?
It remains dark.
For more than 40 years, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum saw tremendous highs — Dr. J’s stellar championship-winning basketball, the Islanders’ Stanley Cup four-peat, and performances by Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Queen, Britney Spears, Pink Floyd and, of course, Billy Joel.
But especially in later years, the arena also was beset by disappointing lows. Effort after effort to replace or improve the Barn failed. Even a minimal renovation giving it a new coat of paint inside and a Slinky-style wrap outside couldn't return the building to its glory.
Then the pandemic shut the arena down. While construction continued at Belmont Park, almost everything in Uniondale stopped. Even after Nassau County, Hub developer Scott Rechler, and Nick Mastroianni II, who heads the Coliseum's latest leaseholder, Nassau Live Center, came to a deal that seemed to pave a way forward, there was little visible progress. The only bright spot was an Islanders playoff run. Now that the Islanders are headed for Belmont permanently, that light has faded, too.
Former Islanders owner, the late Charles Wang, couldn’t have predicted the pandemic. But he knew, even 15 years ago, that the Coliseum’s future would be murky at best. He knew that without bold ideas and courageous leadership, the arena’s success wouldn’t last. Time and again, he tried to build a future where the Coliseum and the land surrounding it really would be the Island's preeminent entertainment hub. He and his partner, Rechler, called for a "certainty date" — a time by which they needed to know what would happen. But political forces and the power of no conspired against those dreams.
At Belmont, renderings are reality. In Uniondale, visions remain unfulfilled.
Now, the Coliseum is closed, still. Even as its website declares it "Long Island’s Home for World-Class Sports & Entertainment," it then promises just three acts on four evenings in the next seven months — all rescheduled due to the pandemic. Rounding out existing plans: home games for the G-league Long Island Nets and the New York Riptide, a lacrosse team. Meanwhile, at the Queens-Nassau border there’s hope and excitement and talk of sellout crowds, as workers race to get UBS Arena ready for a November opening and a slew of concert dates and other events to come.
How does the Coliseum compete with that? Perhaps it doesn't. Perhaps there are new answers and ways of thinking about plans for the Nassau Hub, with talk of innovative entertainment options and details to come later this year. Observers said new activities like esports could be part of the arena's re-imagined purpose.
But new development there is still years away. And while Belmont's entrance on the landscape means the Coliseum's new tenant must think more strategically, closed doors and darkened concourses won't help the region's comeback.
Once again, bold ideas percolate. But for now, without a clear, immediate game plan to carve a place for itself in Long Island’s recovering economy, the Coliseum still lacks what Wang and Rechler wanted so long ago: Certainty.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.