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A promising plan for the Hub

An aerial view of Nassau Coliseum in 2017.

An aerial view of Nassau Coliseum in 2017. Credit: ALL Island Aerial / Kevin P. Coughlin

The Nassau Hub is the most important, and most underutilized, piece of land Nassau County owns. It’s not an exaggeration and it’s been said many times. And many times, county and town officials have failed to overcome the barriers that have prevented the Hub from leading Nassau’s renaissance.

The latest plan, which was submitted by RXR Realty, led by developer Scott Rechler, and BSE Global, the manager of Nassau Coliseum, comes at a moment when the county desperately needs new revenue, when residents need new housing and good-paying jobs, and when, perhaps, people are more open to development than they were a decade or two ago.

The plan includes 500 units of housing, plus extensive retail, entertainment and office development, therefore fitting with the town of Hempstead’s approved zone. It folds in an exciting potential partnership with the Mount Sinai Health Network to build a research facility at the site. It accommodates the needs of the existing arena, by providing parking alternatives at RXR’s other buildings. And, by involving BSE, it only requires amending the existing lease, rather than starting from scratch.

Nonetheless, nothing at the Hub is ever simple. Rechler and BSE chief executive Brett Yormark will have to work with County Executive Laura Curran to shepherd their plans through a gauntlet of remaining challenges, from getting their proposal and an amended lease approved by the Nassau County Legislature to assuring community members already worrying about concerns like traffic. The developers also must not repeat mistakes of the past, so clear, open communication, flexibility, and working with all levels of government, including the Town of Hempstead, will be key. And everyone who cares about the county and the Hub, including other developers who once hoped to build there, must find a way to get beyond petty complaints and past grievances, and allow this project to move forward.

Even if all goes well, however, Rechler and Yormark won’t be able to put a shovel in the ground without significant support from the state.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo already had committed $85 million toward parking garages at the site — but that promise was based on plans of the past, so the county will have to get the state’s support anew. The state also had promised $50 million more to the Hub when the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research had planned a facility there. Feinstein pulled its plans, but county officials are hoping that $20 million of that pot will remain with the Hub. Local economic development advocates also are asking for an additional $20 million toward pedestrian bridges over Hempstead Turnpike and a bus rapid transit system that would connect the Hub to local Long Island Rail Road stops.

State economic development officials have said money for the Hub could go to a project that’s “transformative” in nature. The RXR/BSE plan seems to meet that standard. By providing the funds, the state could be the difference-maker, jump-starting a project that finally would replace a sea of asphalt with vibrant economic activity, add a key component to the region’s long-dreamed-of life sciences corridor, and change Nassau County for the better.

And that’s no exaggeration.