Could new leaders mean a new chance for an old piece of asphalt?
If they have a vision, a willingness to take on a fight and the ability to form strong partnerships with New York State and private developers, the answer could be yes.
And that could mean a vibrant future for the Nassau Hub.
Laura Curran, the incoming county executive, and Laura Gillen, who will take over as Hempstead Town supervisor, should seize the moment and make one of their top priorities the development of the 77 county-owned acres at the Nassau Coliseum. It’s a challenge, but they have the chance to succeed where others have failed.
Big questions remain. Should the county work with what it’s got — plans for a limited number of retail stores and restaurants that, as of now, haven’t moved beyond renderings and leases? Or work with the developer — a team known as Nassau Events Center Plaza and led by Forest City Ratner — to revise the plans? Or should the county start from scratch by seeing whether there’s a way to re-imagine the entire property, perhaps seeking a grander vision through a new request for proposals from developers.
First, Curran and Gillen have to look at what’s in place now. That means analyzing the request for proposals Nassau Events Center won in 2013 and the leases for the Coliseum and surrounding property. It means revisiting the zoning Hempstead approved in 2011, which permits 500 units of housing, in buildings no more than three stories, with no more than six units each. The zone allows up to 5.4 million square feet of development. For perspective, the Coliseum is 400,000 square feet — and would be included in that total.
More is possible there: More housing, which would allow more units to be affordable for millennials, and a wider variety of possible industries and uses for the land. Gillen and board members not around for the previous bad decision-making under then-Supervisor Kate Murray could steer the town in a new direction. Still outstanding is an ongoing lawsuit between developers Bruce Ratner and Ed Blumenfeld over who can develop the Hub. To jump-start her efforts, Curran should put the two in a room to resolve the dispute. There are also concerns about the future of the Coliseum, especially if the New York Islanders are able to build an arena at Belmont Park. Curran and the Coliseum’s management should find new ways to keep the old arena profitable.
At the same time, Curran will have to secure state infrastructure funding. That means finalizing arrangements for the $85 million for parking garages that’s already promised, and seeking additional money for pedestrian bridges and bus-rapid transit to make the area more livable and limit traffic. The Hub won’t happen without the state’s help.
Curran has a lot of challenges, but a top priority is to grow revenues to avoid tax increases. Development is one sure way. To get the Hub going, she should consider an economic development czar of sorts, a position missing during Edward Mangano’s tenure. Gillen will have to work with her town board to garner support for Hub development.
It won’t be easy. But if Curran and Gillen succeed, they will create a vital centerpiece that can revitalize Nassau County where others have left just a parking lot. — The editorial board