UPDATED with link/segment of NIFA statement sent to Newsday, plus video from press scrums after the jump...
Today's press conference about the plan for a $350 million Nassau Coliseum replacement (plus $50 million minor league ballpark) was for cheerleading, for politicians patting themselves on the back, and for slowly releasing details bit by bit. No doubt for Charles Wang, who's put his capital into this thing for 11 years hoping for a resolution, it represents -- finally -- a roadmap to an answer. Here is the official County press release on the matter.
But there are questions, not all of them answered, with the plan. We'll try to address those here.
1. Where will the Islanders Play?
Same location as they are now. (Well, nudged one arena footprint over, as the new Nassau Coliseum would be right next to the current Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.) No Queens, no Brooklyn, no Suffolk, no Quebec, no K.C. or any other unfounded rumored site you've read about in Canadian "make it 30!" media.
2. What Else is Involved?
From the perspective of Nassau County -- and remember, the County has wanted something developed at this "hub" Coliseum site for decades -- this involves building a new arena (and thus retaining an event/entertainment center, now improved), plus a proposal for a $50 million minor league ballpark "nearby."
County Exec. Ed Mangano also announced that they are pushing for the Shinnecock casino to be at Belmont, which seems to make the most sense if there's a casino going anywhere. Though a separate issue requiring different approvals, that proposal is no doubt intended to boost County employment and revenues.
3. Who Will Pay for the New Islanders Arena?
Heh, getting to the tough questions so soon? The pledge is that the business operators themselves would pay the County, through a share of revenues plus sales tax generated. So attendees to these events will be indirectly footing a lot of the bill.
What Mangano proposed today is essentially what was reported by Newsday overnight: A $400 million referendum to finance construction of a new arena and minor-league ballpark (the latter of which, Mangano hopes, could be built sooner and provide revenues sooner). If the county legislature approves, the referendum would go to voters Aug 1.
Said Mangano: "Private financing is not available. We're asking the taxpayers to invest in their County."
Although at first glance this is like any other bond-for-stadiums scenario, Mangano took pains to explain this "wouldn't cost taxpayers" a cent. [This is where you put on your Hat of Suspicion, and wave your Flag of Red.] Argument being that revenue "sharing" and sales tax generated by these venues would pay off the bonds -- and no tax increase would result. We'll see.
Though this and the rally itself involved a year's worth of political spin, it is to a certain extent true and necessary at this point: The County has to develop that land to leverage it somehow, and politics and economy leave few alternatives at this point, while the 2015 countdown clock continues to tick. (Leave aside that Wang spent millions on his own proposal to develop the land privately, only to be blocked by the Town of Hempstead, which is now apparently on board with a $400 million bond referendum...)
At the open press conference, Dee of 7th Woman blogship asked Mangano if this means Wang is still essentially paying for the Coliseum. Mangano replied: "In essence, Mr. Wang will be paying for the Coliseum." Not that he will own it, mind you. But the plan includes some sort of 30-year lease for the Islanders. And significant "revenue streams" from the Islanders/arena will pay back the bonds.
Or according to the official release:
In return, the Islanders will compensate residents by paying the County a share of each dollar generated at the new sports arena. Similarly, all contracts to operate County-owned facilities in the Hub will require operators to compensate the County. This revenue sharing payment requirement, coupled with sales tax generated from the new facilities, will produce revenue that exceeds the financing required to construct the job generating improvements and establishment of a world-class sports-entertainment destination center. In short, this plan requires private sector operators to compensate the County the costs of financing the plan.
4. Can the County Really Do This?
What, you doubt the County?! No but seriously, we'll see. Mangano has had long-running run-ins with the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, which took control of county finances because of the straits they'd waded into. We'll see what NIFA has to say about it.
UPDATE: NIFA has spoken, and it ain't so good:
"deeply concerned about the county executive’s proposal and its fiscal implications for the county." NIFA, which would have to approve the borrowing, said there was "no coordination … regarding this major proposal …"
But the County lays their argument out like this:
Given the local economy and prior failed attempts at redevelopment, County Executive Mangano is putting the question of a new sports arena and minor league ballpark to the people. Citizens will have the opportunity to have their voices heard by deciding the fate of this Economic Development and Job Creation Plan during a County-wide public referendum on August 1, 2011. At the same time, voters will decide the fate of the New York Islanders, Long Island’s only professional sports team,
So the County provides the framework and the bond risk, Wang & Co. pledge to pay the cost via revenue-sharing, and voters decide if this is the way to go. (The alternative, of course, is for the County and maybe the region to lose the Isles, watch an old building become evermore obsolete, and see prime "hub" land remain undeveloped evermore.)
"How does the math add up," you say? It was my understanding there would be no math.
5. The Lighthouse Project Never Happened. Why Will This One Work?
Well, I mean, it might not. But in short, it has a better shot because the major political players involved are on board, and it's not a $3 billion-plus proposal that scares the daylights out of NIMBY suburbanites. Presumably these now united political forces can marshal their supporters and "friends of influence" to get it through.
Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray -- a major player in blocking the LHP -- is on board with this plan and was a featured speaker at today's presser. (Yes, she was booed.)
Of course, just because Wang, Mangano and Murray are all singing the same tune, there are still the hurdles mentioned above -- county legislature, voter referendum and, presumably, NIFA.
6. This Means the Islanders Can Sign Brad Richards Now, Right?
Yeah, totally. That's totally a good idea, too. You should be GM. They should sign Jagr, too.
7. Will the Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum Now be Ingloriously Sponsored?
This topic did not come up, but I cannot imagine it going any other way, certainly not in this universe we currently inhabit. (If you know of a parallel one where 1994 didn't happen and most of the last 18 years were just a dream, send me directions.) Naming rights will have to be a part. Doesn't mean we can't call it whatever we want though.
8. How Big is the Arena?
They didn't discuss this at the open press conference today, but Newsday reported last night/this morning that it would be 17,500 for hockey. Which makes it bigger than the current venue, but not as big as some of the cavernous new buildings in the league. No doubt there is ample space taken up by luxury boxes.
The Islanders haven't averaged over 14,000 per game since 2002-03 though, so this seems about right. Oh, but speaking of which...
9. What about Better Mass Transit to Make Getting to Games Easier?
Not a word on that. Not yet at least. Which is both expected and disappointing, as I believe it's one of the logistical things that holds Islanders attendance back. But fixing it also involves a scope well beyond these political players.
10. What are Comparables?
- According to Wikipedia (which is where I turn for info about benign topics that only a really bored bastard would fabricate), the arena the Coyotes play in was completed in 2003 at a cost of $180 million, seating 17,125 for hockey.
- The Flyers' arena was completed in 1996 at a cost of $206 million, seating roughly 19,500 for hockey.
- The Penguins [fossil fuels uber alles] Center was completed in 2010 at a cost of $321 million, with costs rising from early estimates of $290 million due to increased cost of "steel and insurance." It seats 18,087 for hockey.
If all goes as planned -- and Bossy knows that's never happened in the two-decade saga to develop the Hub and build a Coliseum replacement -- then Aug. 1 is a very big day. Summer referendums are for special issues such as this. We'll see who gets their armies out in force to win the day.
Spring 2012 is when shovels could hit ground. And 2015, when the arena would open, is before John Tavares hits unrestricted free agency. Sorry about that, righteous Toronto columnists.
Questions, corrections, disputes, and wildly idle speculation welcome in comments.