Four years ago, the plan for Nassau Coliseum was clear: It would be renovated entirely with private funds. And it was — until now.
Enter New York State, which is now paying $6 million to improve the arena’s ice plant, media wiring and player locker rooms. The New York Islanders and NHL demanded the upgrades before agreeing to a deal for the team to play half of its home games at the Coliseum over the next few years, until a new arena at Belmont Park is ready.
There’s no clear reason for state taxpayers to pony up the $6 million. Either the Islanders and/or Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which runs the Coliseum and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Islanders now play, could have footed the bill. But neither was willing. BSE has incurred big losses from its deal with the Islanders at Barclays, so the arena operator had little appetite to spend more. And with the Islanders and their partners about to invest in Belmont, they didn’t want to pay, either. State officials justify their investment as a way to grow the fan base, so fans will be ready to migrate to Belmont.
But Cuomo’s willingness to use public funds to close a deal is troubling in light of state officials’ and developers’ promises that the $1 billion project at Belmont Park will be paid for entirely with private funds. Will that really be the case? There are still many unknowns. Will there be tax breaks? Who will pay for traffic mitigation, Long Island Rail Road modifications, and other infrastructure? The slope from privately funded to publicly funded is a slippery one, and taxpayers should be assured they’re on firm footing.
There’s a lot of hockey to be played before Belmont opens. State officials must make sure the new arena and all that comes with it bring a win for both fans and taxpayers.