Sunday, March 8, 2009

Newsday Shines a Phony Light

Just when you thought it was safe to label Long Island's largest Newspaper a Lighthouse supporter...

Newsday's Town of Hempstead reporter, Eden Laikin, has an extensive article published today entitled "Shining a Light on the Lighthouse Plan." In this piece, Ms. Laikin attempts to spin the Lighthouse as a Utopian vision that needs to be brought back into reality. Ms. Laikin brings up many important issues that should be addressed, but on the whole the article has the feel of a slanted piece. Many of the facts are either presented in a sloppy manner or glossed over in favor of the overall narrative. Since these allegations are serious and must be settled, I've provided a response to this article:


It has been common knowledge for years that the current situation at the Nassau Coliseum is unsustainable. I do not understand why Newsday, specifically through Eden Laikin and Anthony Rieber, is sensationalizing the fact that Charles Wang finally admitted it. We have known for many years that, if nothing is done, the New York Islanders cannot continue to play in Nassau Coliseum. Why is this such a surprise to people, and why is it being spun as a threat?

Let's not forget that the SEQR process, which is New York State law, requires respondents to address what would happen if nothing is done. In this case, no renovated Coliseum = no Islanders in Nassau Coliseum. Portraying that as a "threat" is in my mind a complete misrepresentation. I've already discussed here and here that the only financially viable way to obtain a privately-financed arena is to use it as a loss leader and develop the site. If taxpayers cannot shoulder the burden (and I believe they should not), the Lighthouse is the only solution. Admitting this is fact, not a threat or an ultimatum.

Newsday has also been talking about an enforceable lease at the Coliseum - ask Seattle how that helped them keep the Supersonics.

School Enrollment

The Uniondale School District, as per state law, stands to reap large financial benefits from the project, but these benefits come with costs. The project plans to add about 330 children to the Uniondale School District, and, according to Superintendent William K. Lloyd, the district is at capacity.

Remember, this is a 10-year project. We will not see residential development for at least 5 years with this project. Since the Lighthouse has gone to great lengths to involve the Uniondale School District in the process, I expect the two parties to work out a mutually-agreeable solution.

It is also interesting to me that education is suddenly an issue. I had a discussion about a year ago with Joe Ra, the Hempstead Town Attorney, about the Lighthouse. He said that if the Lighthouse group wanted to build single-family homes on the site, "[The Town of Hempstead] would give them the permits tomorrow." That is an interesting point of view, since single-family homes would bring more children into the Uniondale School District than the proposed configuration. Many luxury condos and affordable housing will be taken by older residents whose children are now adults or younger people (like myself) who do not yet have children (and will not for many years). People purchasing luxury homes with children are likely to send them to any of the number of private schools in the area - such as Sacred Heart, Kellenberg, or Chaminade - rather than using the school district. Single-family homes would be almost exclusively purchased by those who either have children or are planning to have children shortly, and the overwhelming majority of those children would use the school district. Am I the only one who sees inconsistency here?

Jobs, Baby, Jobs

As I addressed in "Straight From the Horse's Mouth, Part 2," the current best-case estimates for job creation and economic development are:
  • 60,000 construction and construction-related jobs (that includes both construction workers and people in service industries that support the construction workers that will be working on the site)
  • 20,000 permanent jobs
  • $20-70 million in yearly tax revenue
There was then a quote from Martin Cantor, Director of Dowling College's Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute, that made me laugh out loud. He cites (correctly) that we are teetering on the brink of depression right now, and businesses will not hire workers while things are still rough. Does Mr. Cantor not realize that the Coliseum is the first phase of construction and the commercial space isn't scheduled to be completed for at least 5 years? How could he use the current economic climate as a justification for not creating jobs 5 years in the future (and into perpetuity)? This was a very simplistic argument, and I'm disappointed Ms. Laikin simply quoted Mr. Cantor rather than questioning his reasoning.

Mr. Cantor also questioned tax revenue estimates. It's true we don't know the exact numbers, but it's not fair on his part to question the entire assumption. First of all, the final scope is not settled, so until we know the exact amount of housing the project will contain we can't know the amount of people projected to live there. Second of all, we know basic parameters of the project. We are talking about 2400 residential units (currently) with a few hundred luxury condos and 20% affordable housing (as per the original Nassau County RFP). Therefore, you are likely bringing both affluent residents and working professionals into the area, and it is not difficult to use current salary figures and estimate tax revenues.

Traffic - AGAIN

Old habits die hard - it was naive of me to expect the traffic argument to simply go away when it's been used to kill so many projects on Long Island.

Traffic is bad all over Long Island due to mindless development without a central plan or any reliance on mass transit. This is the fault of many people - it seems local governments have never met a strip mall they didn't like, and Nassau County has not been fulfilling its obligations to fund Long Island Bus. These issues are real and undeniable. However, does it make sense to punish Charles Wang for problems that caused from an over-building of malls and big box retail? The Lighthouse could actually attract some federal money to solve the problem. Next year, as I mentioned, Rep. Jim Oberstar and the House Transportation Committee will pass a 5-year,$400 billion transportation infrastructure bill whether or not the Lighthouse is approved. We already give the federal government far more in taxes than we get back, so why shouldn't we get our fair share to improve things in the area?

In regard to traffic and transportation, the cost of doing nothing far outstrips the cost of making the Lighthouse work. Traffic will only get worse if we continue to neglect the area and do not come up with a systematic plan to improve things. I have not heard one opponent articulate how traffic would get better if we continue to do nothing and blindly complain about traffic in a knee-jerk fashion.

Public Services

I discussed these in the "Hidden Public Costs" post (and Part II), since many are worried about public expenditures related to the Lighthouse. The project will require police, fire, and garbage collection to service the site. However, these costs are not unique to the Lighthouse; any project built on the site would require an increase in services. In addition, the added tax revenues will more than cover the needed public expenditures.


Newsday rightly brings up the issues of sewage treatment and water usage in relation to the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is currently slated to spend $5-10 million drilling a new well on the Nassau Community College campus, and there are also discussions about building a new sewage treatment plant.

There was an interesting quote from John Reinhardt, the Hempstead Water Commissioner, about water usage. He believes the water usage estimates are a little low and the proposed solution might not be enough to handle the strain the Lighthouse will put on the Town water system. This is a legitimate concern, but there is one thing that does not add up for me. The Lighthouse group has been practically begging the Town of Hempstead to give them answers related to the project, so Mr. Reinhardt should be discussing this with the Lighthouse (and negotiating a solution) rather than conducting those negotiations through the media.

It is also worth noting that both the water and sewage systems in the Town of Hempstead are taxed to near capacity. New facilities are needed without factoring in the Lighthouse, and it is a good gesture on the part of the Lighthouse to cover those costs.

Process Update

The Town of Hempstead has until April 28 to determine whether the responses to questions in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement are sufficient and ready for County and State review. Public comments should be held around that time, and we should expect an announcement within the next few weeks about scheduling.

To Newsday

Newsday has been wildly inconsistent in its Lighthouse reporting. Their editorial board endorsed the project last week, but they have done other things that I believe are quite suspect. Ms. Laikin, why did you deliberately interview the only 3 people who came to the Town of Hempstead meeting in Islanders gear? Why didn't you want to hear from the 99% of attendants who came in professional attire? Did you think this was a flattering portrait, considering that the Town of Hempstead is already dismissing Lighthouse supporters as merely "Islanders fans"? Why are you playing up the issue of financing when the credit markets will improve and it is not the Town of Hempstead's responsibility to judge a zoning variance based on the ability of the applicant to get financing? Why are you sensationalizing something that is common knowledge among anybody following this project (the "threat" to move)? Finally, why are you accepting concerns as fact while dismissing proposed benefits? These questions need to be answered.

Bottom Line

I have never hidden my support for this project, and I will not apologize for it here or anywhere else. I will also not deny that some of the issues raised should be addressed by the Lighthouse group. However, blindly reporting concerns without benefits is irresponsible, and for readers to blindly accept that is to miss the point. The point, in my estimation, is that everybody needs to understand the issues at play here. Do not accept everything you hear from Newsday at face value. Get informed and make an educated decision on whether or not you support this project, because I can't tell you to agree with me. I can just present the facts and hope you agree with me.

I welcome your thoughts on this article, the media, Newsday's conduct toward the Lighthouse, and the overall process in comments. As always, don't forget to sign the petition and pass it on. I welcome your feedback at


  1. This is a great response! Fortunately, I have faith that Nassau residents are not so easily manipulated by sensationalism and halftruths. They just need to hear the truth and then they will see whats what.

  2. Great piece, Nick. The "ultimatum" thin particularly struck me, the way it was spun into big news this week -- as if it was ever a question what the Islanders would do if the Coliseum were unchanged.

  3. Nick - excellent as always!

    I called Newsday out on Logan's blog when he spoke about Laikin's piece. I said it wasn't a fair representation to ask three people dressed in Isles jersey's when the business casual and business attire folks clearly outnumbered those in hockey garb.

    The only way we can continue to spread the actual facts and not the sensationalized "should be known" information is to continue to work the blogs and message boards. It may even be in the Lighthouse Groups best interest to run a full page ad in Newsday....

    Keep up the great work though, you are certainly one of the loudest most enthusiastic voices in the room.

  4. Nick, if the Isles were owned by a hockey person, and a deal was struck to renovate the coliseum, wouldn't the team then be profitable with a new arena and a new lease? Isn't this really the problem, the Isles don't need the lighthouse project, maybe they just need an owner who cares about the team and not development? I read your loss leader post, and nothing in there actually says the team wouldn't be profitable with a new arena, more just about leverage for the project?

  5. Anon - check the post called Financial Returns and Credit Markets. There is a difference between making money and making enough money to justify a $400 million arena investment. If I make a million dollars this year and spend $999,999, I have a profitable business. The issue is not that the team can't make money with a new arena, it's the issue of recouping an investment. It's the same for all of us - you wouldn't spend $100,000 to renovate your house if it raised the house's value by only $30,000, for example.

    Thank you for writing in - response and feedback always welcome.

  6. To finish this thought - stand-alone or renovated arenas such as this are profitable for teams only when taxpayers eat the cost. They should not have to.

    Again, please read that post because I think/hope it answers your question.

  7. Nick ... going to be a Johnny come lately to this thread ... and I'm not here to pat you on the back ... you know I support you. I just want to say how eloquently you lay out your case and present the facts ... because FACTS are FACTS and so many people choose to be ignorant or just ignore the facts.

    In Newsday's case I can't help but think they have an agenda ... whether it be political, financial or just plain irresponsible journalism. They like you have had a full chance to see the guts of the LHP's work. Why on earth would anyone be surprised if the Islanders left the NVMC if the project is turned down. Have they not played that scenario out in their heads? What was Charles Wang supposed to do if they say NO? Was Charles supposed to say, "OK ... I'll continue to lose $20M a year because I love Long Island and Long Island Loves M..." ... uhhh ... do they Love Charles?

    Money making teams like the Yankees and Mets get new stadiums and the Isles who needed a new building right away before anything else get shafted... Was Charles supposed to spend $400M on a stand alone building that he doesn't own just so the team could fill it every night, and earn meager if any profits to get a return on his investment while at the same time the Town and County receive tax revenue from having a major league team in their district???

    One thing I'll say about newspaper or even electronic news organizations... They have an ingrained culture that has an agenda all its own. Whether it be political or financial ... they will do what ever it takes to advance their own agenda. It's an ingrained culture that begins for journalists, editors and publishers since their college days. Most of the individuals in the news industry in the position of power were in college during the 60's and 70's ... so they are a reflection of their environment and advance their agenda which was ingrained in them then. There are lots of exceptions ... but in my 19 years of experience dealing daily with such people ... I say the exception is very rare... especially in the NYC area and National news markets. The LHG has a very hard public relations fight on their hands if they are to properly inform the general public.