Nassau and Northlands: Tale of Two Coliseums

"I don't care what you come up with, Smithers -- just find some way to dress up the old barn."

...stressed that the arena, flanked by a planned entertainment district with hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping outlets, becomes an attraction for [the region] and, as such, is far more worthy of government support than a standalone arena.

--John MacKinnon

For most people to truly buy into this project, they are going to have to see more, both in the way of financial details and design plans. With much of the debate about this deal going on in private, far more disclosure is a necessity.

--David Staples

Those quotes aren't describing Nassau County and proposals to replace the Coliseum, but they might as well be.

I know I'm not alone among Islanders fans in marveling at the decades-long parallels between the Orange and Blue franchise of the Eastern seaboard, and the Orange "Copper" and Blue franchise of the great North and West. They fielded by far the two most exciting teams of the '80s, good for four Stanley Cups each (the Oilers tacked on a fifth in 1990, before migrating East to do one more in 1994, and to advance scout the city for Sather).

They each won those Cups in Coliseums that still* stand today as both charming barns and, sadly, "obsolete" venues for the modern, insanely priced version of the sport we love.

*And yes, I realize Northlands Coliseum is long-since called something else now, but I've no patience for the turnstile corporate naming rights game. For clarity's sake, I hope it's no (sky) reach to suggest the original name will do, thanks.

Poor '90s ownership muddled that decade and left each franchise dealing with the aftershocks. New, actually committed millionaire owners succeeded their derelict predecessors with plans to keep the teams put and build new arenas that make them more financially viable.

But, you know, sports and communities and politics are complicated.

 

Northlands & Nassau Replacement Coliseum Proposals as They Stand Now

The $450 million (Canadian) arena plan for the Oilers, as recently agreed with Edmonton City Council:

Daryl Katz will pony up $100 million cash

A Facility Improvement Fee (ticket tax), administered by Katz Group, will kick in $125 million

Using a community revitalization levy (CRL), combined with parking and other revenue sources the city will contribute $125 million

Another $100 million will come from other levels of government. They all hope.

The $400 million (U.S.) referendum (presumably $350 million for arena for the Islanders, $50 million for minor ballpark/other), as recently agreed with the County Executive:

The referendum asks residents if they would like to partner with the County, Islanders and minor league ballpark by providing the financing for capital improvements to the Hub.  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.

Watching these separate arena replacement ventures evolve over the years -- both rooted in a municipality wanting to revive/develop a downtown/"hub," both peppered with hockey fan passion for a historic team, both mired in disagreements over who should pay how much for what -- it's remarkable how you'd handicap them differently depending on the month.

Where once Charles Wang's Lighthouse Project was about private financing to at long last turn the center of Nassau County into a massive mixed-use hub, Katz was rattling sabers and veiled relocation threats to get public money that wasn't forthcoming for his dream of a downtown arts and entertainment district. Now Katz has a commitment for public money and Wang's team rests on a proposal that would be publicly financed but privately "compensated."

Each plan is in a phase of guarded hope now. However...

Both new plans have promised details forthcoming, which arouses suspicion but also, honestly, is to be expected when entrepreneurs and politicians tackle a massive project where no one is in complete charge.

For politicians and important people of influence: You want a hub, a revitalized civic center with a big event venue at its core? Get it done. Just get it done. If you don't, then come up with a better idea for planned development -- preferably without mentioning the words Bed Bath & Beyond. With Long Island's case in particular, it strikes me that these movers and approvers shift to different sides of the same topic depending on which proposal has some meat they can leverage into financial or political gain (which, sadly, feels like one in the same).

It's difficult not to be cynical about how it all plays out -- to default to just hoping it gets worked out somehow, accepting with resignation that those who can will get their cut or else stand in the way.

 

Next Step: To the County Legislature, Tuesday, May 23

For the Islanders' Coliseum, the next step is tomorrow, May 24, when the Nassau County Legislature discusses the proposed special referendum for Aug. 1. If you want to express support or contact a legislature, here are legislature contact details, as well as info on a rally planned for tomorrow morning:

local labor and business leaders called a rally to take place at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola prior to the public meeting. Everyone attending should meet at the Theodore Roosevelt Statue. The Legislative Building is located at 1550 Franklin Ave., on the corner of Old Country Road.

If you're on the ground and these matters affect you beyond just the fate of your favorite hockey team, best of luck to you. I know how frustrating these long journeys can be, with episode upon episode making you feel at turns hopeful or helpless.

To that end, by setting the tight timeline working toward Aug. 1, it almost feels like the County Executive has done us all a favor.

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