Casino proposal from Las Vegas Sands is another roll of the dice for the Nassau Hub
The tortured history of the Nassau Hub is worth remembering.
For decades, the asphalt around Nassau Coliseum has sat empty, Long Island’s best example of how big ideas don’t come to fruition. The hope that rose with every new proposal has died, time and again. The arena now is virtually unused.
There’s no doubt that the property and Nassau County as a whole need an economic boost.
Now comes Las Vegas Sands with the latest proposal — for a gambling resort development that could feature a hotel, an entertainment venue smaller than the Coliseum, and a spa, along with a full casino. An “integrated resort,” as Sands calls its plan, could be an enormous improvement that ripples across Long Island. As a Sands executive told analysts last week, the proposal could “positively impact the community and grow tourism, [making] a powerful statement.”
But is it a worthy plan? Questions abound, requiring thoughtful answers as New York begins the complex, competitive process of awarding three downstate gaming licenses.
Nassau County owns the Coliseum and the surrounding land. The lease on the arena and the right to build at the site is held by Nick Mastroianni II, a Florida developer who holds the arena’s loan. Las Vegas Sands hopes to take over the arena lease from Mastroianni, with new terms, a move that would let the company control development. What would those terms be? Sands executives say it will improve on the current lease, so that Nassau will benefit. The county needs the best possible deal.
More importantly, what happens if Sands loses its casino license bid? Its executives have pledged not to leave Long Island in the lurch. They told analysts they’ll “be all the way in.” But it seems unlikely a casino company will develop anything other than a casino resort. Will Nassau be left worse off? A backup, alternative path forward is warranted.
Sands executives say they haven’t decided whether they would demolish the one-time home of the New York Islanders. A re-imagined arena is possible, they say. This is not a simple choice, but understanding how any arena fits with the rest of the development is key to determining whether the project makes sense.
Sands is reaching out to elected officials and community leaders. Those efforts are smart but only a start. What specific steps will the company take to recruit, train and hire area residents, and work with small businesses? And how will Sands structure the community benefits that the hamlets surrounding the Hub need and deserve?
Sands already is hearing resistance from some local residents and entities, particularly Hofstra University. These concerns could prevent the developers from getting the local stamp of approval the law requires. It’s critical that Sands and its potential neighbors explore possibilities for cooperation.
TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT
Any meaningful economic development project at the last, largest vacant space in Nassau raises concerns of further congestion. The Sands proposal presents a particularly interesting challenge, in an already-challenged space. The surrounding roads were designed to handle the entrance and exit of as many as 6,000 cars at one time for events in the Coliseum’s heyday. How would traffic from a casino resort differ? That depends on how Sands plans to handle the routing of cars and buses. What role will the company play in improving infrastructure and what kinds of upgrades will be made? Would Nassau push for innovative bus transit, or even light rail, options? Will there be last-mile shuttles? How would traffic be mitigated and public transit championed?
The environmental concerns are many, from waste management and vehicle pollution to energy usage and water requirements. The state environmental review process will address these issues but the Sands would be well advised to come up with creative and forward-reaching innovations to make this a model green project.
There will be multiple opportunities to obtain answers on these issues. The Nassau County Legislature will be asked in the coming months to approve transferring the Coliseum lease to Sands. The licensing bid itself will emerge come spring, with additional detail. A community advisory committee — made up of one representative each chosen by the governor, local state senator, local Assembly member, county executive, and town supervisor — will convene. The panel would have to approve the project by a two-thirds vote. Then Sands can go to the Town of Hempstead for the zoning changes and land use variances that are likely to be needed.
This project may check many boxes any Hub development should include. After all the missed opportunities, it is well worth examining the proposal open-mindedly but cautiously.
These 70-plus acres at the heart of Nassau County have seen many starts and stops. Something has to happen there. It cannot lie fallow forever. Which leaves a simple yet vital question: After all these years, is this proposal the most realistic and viable use of this star-crossed property?
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.