As promised, here is Part 2 of our discussion about the Lighthouse Project media avail this past Thursday, February 18.
Blogger's Note: I see Charles Wang has conducted an interview with Newsday reporters to discuss the Lighthouse Project. This reinforces my beliefs that I've discussed previously. He is not threatening or making ultimatums, though the consequences of our failure to act are clear. Mr. Wang is taking control of the process, and he will be submitting everything expected of him as quickly as humanly possible. This will keep the pressure on the Town and County governments to move the process forward.
Also, I would really like to see a more close, public collaboration between the Lighthouse, Nassau County, and the Town of Hempstead. The Lighthouse and Town have been communicating, and the County's support has not been questioned, but can we PLEASE see some actual progress? Nobody in the Town of Hempstead has publicly voiced an opinion on the Lighthouse, except to discuss its cost and complexity. As Mr. Wang said so well in the interview - if the Town of Hempstead has an issue with a part of the development, SAY SO. Nobody here can read minds, and they won't be able to provide a better project unless there's communication. We all know things need to be done correctly, but some public support could do a lot to allay supporters' fears and marginalize opponents.
We have known for many years that the SMG lease signed by previous owner John O. Pickett has strangled the New York Islanders (side-note: I think I've seen more of Pickett in the papers the last 2 days than I had when he actually owned the team. I barely knew his name in those days). SMG, under the terms, is entitled to:
All of parking
2/3 of individual (Ticketmaster or purchaced at the Box Ofice) ticket sales of any event at the Nassau Coliseum
By my understanding, Pickett thought he would make up that money by guaranteeing the team 100% of luxury box revenue. That was, of course, a multimillion-dollar mistake. The Cablevision contract and the Islanders' control of merchandise sales are the only thing that kept the team's situation from getting even uglier than it already is.
SMG was brought up at the media avail, and the Lighthouse dismissed it as a "non-issue." The Lighthouse Project will include a new lease with Nassau County, and if that doesn't include an immediate buyout or condemnation of the lease it is widely understood that the principals (County and Lighthouse) will allow the deal to lapse and negotiate a new deal with a new arena management firm.
A few readers have asked about the availability of detailed construction renderings for the Coliseum and the site at large. I brought this issue up at the avail, and I was told to expect these renderings once the final scope is approved with the Town of Hempstead. It makes sense - architectural models cost around $300,000, and it's pure speculation to provide renderings before it's clear what the project will entail and what the total cost will be. Sit tight on this one, guys.
Roosevelt Field Problem?
The Lighthouse group has repeated many times that the retail component is meant to serve the site itself and should not be considered a "mall." Many have been concerned that Simon Malls, the owner of Roosevelt Field and the nearby Source Mall, will seek to block the project because it does not want competition. As it has done with the community, the Lighthouse group has reached out to local business owners in an attempt to bring common ground and understanding.
In addition, don't underestimate the pull of the almighty dollar. Times are tough right now, and with the Source losing its anchor tenant (Fortunoff) to liquidation, there are always concerns about driving more traffic to the malls. Many observers believe that a regional and cohesive transportation/mass transit plan can unite the area and actually bring more shoppers to the malls in a more convenient way. I wouldn't write off Simon as a concern, but I would not be concerned that they will torpedo the project the first chance they get.
Lack of Organized Opposition
Many people have been amazed that there has been no organized opposition to the Lighthouse Project. I have not been surprised because I truly believe this is a good project that can provide a new way forward for our Island as we move further into the 21st Century. In addition, the Lighthouse reminded us that they have conducted nearly 180 community outreach projects with local civic associations and community leaders in order to explain the project and understand residents' concerns. This engagement and the overall quality of the project are almost certainly the reasons we have not seen this organized opposition emerge.
Blogger's Note: This should not make us over-confident. The Public Comments period will be the last chance for organized opposition to surface and rear its ugly head. We must all be vigilant and armed with facts at these public hearings in the event the worst happens.
Current Proposed Benefits
As per the Lighthouse, these are the current proposed benefits for the site:
- 60,000 construction and construction-related jobs
- 20,000 permanent jobs
- $20-70 million in yearly tax revenue
Let's not forget the extra incentive Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead have for making the Lighthouse Project work. Charles Wang and Scott Rechler are both "favorite sons" who grew up and currently run businesses on Long Island. Their roots in the community are deep. If these two men cannot succeed with the Lighthouse Project, we may end up with Nassau Coliseum as an abandoned, vacant lot. Why would any developer want to go through the rigamarole of proposing a project for the Coliseum site and moving through the approval phases if the two wealthiest and best-connected Long Island natives who see themselves as "not adversaries, but neighbors" could not succeed? From a political perspective, this may be the last, best chance to make use of a fallow plot of land with incredible strategic advantages. This, in conjunction with the economic realities, could be the final piece to move local politicians to work out a deal amenable to both sides.
As I mentioned in my previous post on the Town of Hempstead meeting, there is much left to do before the shovels hit the ground and we begin making our dreams a reality. I have always planned for ground-breakng next year, but if things move quickly enough there is a shot things could begin over the summer.
I asked the Lighthouse representative about the probability for a ground-breaking this summer. He characterized the chances as "less than 50%, but in the ballpark." Personally, I believe we should plan for ground-breaking after hockey season next year while maintaining pressure on the Town of Hempstead to move the process along.
It was an intriguing look behind the veil of the Lighthouse process. From a supporter's perspective, the most important upcoming step is the mandatory public comments period. That is the time we must make our voices heard and be prepared to neuter any organized opposition, should it arise. However, this underlined how important the final scoping will be to the identity of the project. Until this issue is resolved, many other issues (construction renderings, financing, project benefits, environmental impact) are unsettled.
In addition, I'm sticking closer to my original prediction. Construction for the new Coliseum will begin next year after hockey season ends, and we must remain vigilant and positive to ensure this date is fulfilled.
I welcome your thoughts on this and other issues you'd like to see addressed in the comments section. As always, don't forget to sign the petition and pass it on. I welcome your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.