For decades, little has changed at the economic wasteland known as the Nassau Hub.
An arena with tight corridors and few modern amenities. Dozens of acres of empty asphalt around it. Plan after plan. Deadline after deadline. Dashed hope after dashed hope. Failure after failure.
The latest and perhaps the best chance to end this dismal cycle and turn the Hub into a job-creating, revenue-generating destination is in the hands of Nassau County, the Town of Hempstead and developer RXR Realty.
They must not get this wrong.
That means embracing the right uses, like housing and health care, and rejecting the wrong ones — like gambling. It means removing impediments — like the Nassau Coliseum itself — and welcoming assets, such as potential partnerships with entities like NYU Langone. And it means putting aside the partisanship and politics that derailed previous initiatives and working together to build something meaningful at a site that, at times, has seemed cursed to remain empty.
RXR holds development rights on the 72 acres surrounding the Coliseum, and has a sensible plan that revolves around a mix of uses, including experiential retail, housing, health care, and research and development. While there have been huge roadblocks to breaking ground — from the pandemic to changing Coliseum leaseholders — RXR has continued to negotiate with prospective partners and anchor tenants, while working on community benefits agreements and meeting with key public officials.
Meanwhile, both Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman say they support Hub development and pledge to finally get something done there. Now, they need to show they mean it.
TOO QUIET, TOO LONG
It's been far too quiet on the Hub front for far too long. While the pandemic obviously delayed progress, it shows why the Hub is so important: The economic impact of development there would boost the region's recovery.
To jump-start the site, RXR first needs the Town of Hempstead to approve its "comprehensive master plan" — a general proposal that explains the developer's ideas, how they fit within the existing town zone, and where RXR may need variances. The paperwork is submitted; the town just needs to act. There is no reason to wait.
The town's approval would show potential anchor tenants and other prospective partners that Hempstead is serious in its commitment. It also would put responsibility back on the county and the developer to turn vague plans into concrete reality. Once the town approves the general plan, RXR chief executive Scott Rechler must outline specifics, making public exactly what he envisions and what will and won't be at the site.
In the absence of details, the resulting vacuum has left the door wide open for uncertainty, rumors and potentially problematic proposals for the property that could threaten progress on the broader Hub development efforts. Most recently, talk that casino operators are interested in the Hub or the adjacent Long Island Marriott has worried residents and area leaders, including Hofstra University officials. Even though it's a political nonstarter, this isn't the first time a casino has been pitched for the Hub. It was a bad idea years ago; it's a bad idea now. Fortunately, Rechler has said he's not contemplating it. Ignoring such unfortunate tangents will enable faster progress.
Other notions for the Hub make more sense. Sources say NYU Langone is considering the Hub for a significant medical complex. That's a good start, as health care is a growing industry here, with the potential for well-paying jobs and an economic ripple effect that would benefit the region. Hempstead's zone allows for 500 housing units, and that also must be fulfilled, though Nassau County desperately needs even more.
But building the most economically viable and invigorating development, one that could boost the county and the region, means giving RXR a blank canvas. Nassau Coliseum must be demolished. The beloved but long-maligned arena has served Long Island well for 50 years but now it's an expensive, unsuccessful albatross. RXR and its partner, Coliseum tenant Nick Mastroianni, who also has a stake in any development at the site, must find a way to resolve the $100 million loan saddling the arena. State funds already committed to the Hub, combined with profitable development there, could help make the math work.
Removing the Coliseum would allow a plan to blossom that rightly mixes housing, retail, entertainment, office space, health care and more. It might even eliminate the need for massive stand-alone parking garages, permitting pledged state funds to be better spent on other, more beneficial development. But since the county owns the Coliseum, such a game-changing plan for the Hub is only possible if everyone, including Blakeman, gets on board.
RXR's agreement with the county could expire early next year if progress isn't made. The time to move forward is now. If Blakeman, Clavin and Rechler can't find a way, development at the Hub might never happen.
And that would be a true waste.
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.