One of the main argument arena supporters make is that a “No” vote means that the Islanders will leave the County and the Coliseum will be closed, which will result in a tax increase as a due to lost revenue associated with the Islanders and the Coliseum. Unfortunately, this is one area where supporters often engage in unrealistic bluster regarding the impact of a "No" note. Yes - a shuttered Coliseum would devastate the economy in the immediate area and the eyesore of a decaying Coliseum or an empty Hub would serve as a painful reminder regarding the county's decline. However, while it is difficult to precisely assess the "net" economic hit the county would take, it is unlikely to cause the homeowners' tax bills to increase more than $58/year, the number that the arena plan is said to cost the County.
But, as discussed yesterday, the $58/year "Coliseum tax" is a myth. Because the actual cost to of the arena plan is at most $27/year per homeowner -- and may even may result in a small decrease in taxes -- it's silly to use the $58/year number as a benchmark.
So what will a "No" vote cost the average homeowner? According to the county’s economic consultant, Camoin Associates, the county will lose at least $7.8 million per year in tax revenue, which translates to $17/year per household. As noted above, this number is difficult to calculate because it seeks to answer a hypothetical question – what would happen to all of the Islanders and Coliseum related economic activity were the team to leave? Would families go to a movie theater in the county? Or watch the Nets in Brooklyn? Or stay home and watch pay per view? Would Katy Perry find another venue in the county to perform in or decide to forgo the county on her next tour? The $7.8 million is based on economic modeling done by Camoin Associates to predict what would happen if the team left and the Coliseum closed, so by nature the number is open to question. However, thus far I haven’t seen any criticism of Camoin’s methodologies or alternative analysis that yields a different result.
While arena supporters might think that $17/year seems like a small amount, to the anti-tax crowd leading the charge against the arena plan, any tax increase is toxic.
The skeptics’ response is “well, what’s the big deal if the Coliseum closed and the team left? Who’s to say that the property won’t be redeveloped for other uses? Wouldn’t real estate developers be chomping at the bit to redevelop this property?” That may be the case, but isn’t that sheer speculation? We don’t know what sorts of plans potential developers might propose, how much revenue they might bring in and whether they will be able to get all of the necessary approvals (including any zoning variance from the Town of Hempstead). Why would reject a plan that is on the table with a willing tenant and permanently chase away the tenant all in the hope of a completely hypothetical Plan B? It’s interesting how arena opponents criticize Mangano’s projections as speculative yet seem to think development will magically materialize in the place of the Coliseum, forgetting the nightmare the Lighthouse Project process was.
But more importantly, what will take the place of the Coliseum? Another shopping mall? Another set of office buildings? The Islanders is a unique institution that creates economic activity within the county by drawing visitors from the region in a way that malls and office parks cannot.
And of course, to an Islanders fan, the cost of replacing the Islanders with a Target, Dave and Busters and an Olive Garden is way, way more than $17 per year. But if you are an arena skeptic, I assume that doesn’t count for much.