For decades, whoever’s in charge of Nassau County has promised that this time would be different. This time, the Nassau Hub would be a priority. This time, something would be built there.
And for decades, nothing’s changed. Delay after delay, and still, most of the 77 acres of asphalt around Nassau Coliseum remains empty.
County and Hempstead Town officials now have an opportunity, and this moment won’t last long. The unusual combination of new leaders, a broad desire for economic development, the desperate need for affordable housing and the need for new county revenue sources might not happen again soon. Add to that the possibility of new state funds for bus-rapid transit to Long Island Rail Road stations and pedestrian bridges to Hofstra University and over Hempstead Turnpike.
Then there’s the new partnership between Syosset developer Ed Blumenfeld, who has the right to propose a development at the site after settling a lawsuit with developer Bruce Ratner, and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which manages the Coliseum. Blumenfeld and Brooklyn Sports say they have a “shared vision,” but haven’t provided renderings or details. They’ll have to meet with the task force and be specific, so local officials can determine whether it’s the best way forward for the Hub.
Nothing will happen without strong leadership, a sense of urgency and focused vision. The county owns the land, so County Executive Laura Curran should lead, working closely with Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen. Curran’s new Hub task force is a good first step. But the officials haven’t bolted from the gate.
It’s been five years since then-County Executive Edward Mangano issued a request for proposals from developers that Ratner won, and a lot has changed. Now, neither man is involved. Housing, which wasn’t integral to Mangano’s 2013 plan, is needed more than ever in Nassau and the Hub is a smart place for it. It should be a key component of any development at the site. As of now, however, town zoning allows for just 500 housing units across the 77 acres. By comparison, the Ronkonkoma Hub is expected to include up to 1,450 apartments on 50 acres.
The task force should quickly determine whether a new vision for the Hub is best achieved by seeking a new round of proposals. What could that mean? A reimagined Hub that offers jobs, housing and economic vitality. A Hub that’s developed in the context of the plans for Belmont Park, just a few miles to the west. A Hub that’s linked by bus to the LIRR stop in Mineola, just as the railroad’s third track, which could add trains, reduce congestion and spur economic development, is being planned along the Main Line.
Curran and Gillen have a small window of time, and they have to take advantage of it. The Hub continues to be one of the biggest economic disappointments on Long Island. Time and again, political leaders and developers have promised to turn asphalt into activity — and failed. This time must be different.