(Photo courtesy of Katrina at the Lighthouse - I could never get a clear shot because the TV cameras were in my way)
UPDATE 4:45 PM: Governor Paterson's office has issued a press release detailing the events of today.
On a sun-splashed Monday morning, New York Gov. David Paterson appeared at Nassau Coliseum, flanked by Lighthouse principals and elected officials, to declare his full support for the Lighthouse Project.
Governor Cites Lighthouse Significance
(Thanks Nicole K. from Twitter)
In his opening remarks, the governor called the Lighthouse Project "the most significant economic proposal to hit Long Island in a very long time." He emphasized the need for new investment, such as the Lighthouse, to bring New York out of its current economic crisis, in which over 800,000 New Yorkers have lost their jobs. In order to create jobs, Paterson stressed the need for "targeted investments in strategic industries." He also, in an issue near and dear to my heart, declared that Long Island has a dire need to encourage entrepreneurship and lower the overall cost of doing business.
In this time of economic crisis, Paterson said, New York must take bold initiatives to move away from recession and into prosperity. A project like the Lighthouse, which will bring over $4 billion in private investment to the area, is a wonderful catalyst for an economic rebirth.
Paterson also made it clear what he, as governor, can do to expedite the approval process. The governor declared that he is directing agencies to conduct the state review procedures quickly and sufficiently. While understanding the state's obligation to protect the public, Paterson also reminded the assembled crowd that he also had a responsibility to conduct the reviews quickly. The governor spoke of past projects on Long Island that became quagmires for government and developer alike due to state agencies working separately from each other and using the regulatory process to impede development.
Paterson was very clear on this: "Regulatory obfuscation will not happen here."
UPDATE: Newsday has a little more detailed information on this. Gov. Paterson is eliminating several middlemen in the process by having state agencies report all concerns directly to him. At this time, the governor says there have been no major issues that threaten the project's completion, a major plus for the Lighthouse developers.
Rep. McCarthy Stumps for the Lighthouse
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose congressional district includes the proposed Lighthouse site, was next to speak. She noted that the Lighthouse was "long in the coming," and a perfect example of thinking outside the box.
The congresswoman understood that there are important reviews that must take place, and that the public must be heard on this very important project. However, she also made clear that "in the long run, communities will win [if the Lighthouse is built]."
Rep. McCarthy closed her remarks saying "This [the Lighthouse] is something we can do. This is something we must do."
Tom Suozzi and New Suburbia
Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi kicked off his remarks by calling the Lighthouse "a symbol of what New Suburbia should be." He also stressed the need to "stop playing defense [by holding on to the 50's and 60's] and start playing offense to make [Nassau County] even better."
The County Executive's remarks made it clear that Nassau County is in trouble, even compared to neighboring Suffolk County. In recent years, Suffolk County has collected $165 million more in sales tax per year, has broken ground on 5 times as many commercial office space, and has twice as many new housing starts. A community cannot reach its full potential if it is stagnating, and it is of the utmost importance to create a new economic engine that can preserve the suburban life cherished by so many while still bringing Nassau County into the new suburban reality that is embraced everywhere from Arlington, Virginia to Silicon Valley.
Gov. Paterson also reminded us of how far Nassau County has come financially - at the time Tom Suozzi assumed office. Nassau County was the 11th largest debtor in the US, and the county in fact owed more money than 37 states. We have come a long way, but we must go further.
Kate Murray Stays the Course
Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray was the last elected official to give remarks, and she did not stray from her recent script. Ms. Murray began by talking about the public hearing and all the ways the public can make its voice heard on the Lighthouse, an important bit of info for those who are not as informed on the process.
Otherwise, the Supervisor discussed the need for a good solution, since "We all know something has to be built [at the Coliseum site]." We must be judicious, but we have to also get it right because, according to Murray, "Our decision will affect our children and grandchildren for years to come."
This was nothing new from Ms. Murray, and people trying to read the tea leaves will not have any more insight into her true position on the Lighthouse. We'll have to keep up the positive advocacy and make a great showing at the public hearings.
Charles Wang Closes
Charles Wang closed the prepared portion of the event by repeating he is "Committed to making [the Lighthouse] happen." With that, we moved into the Question and Answer session, with Gov. Paterson answering most of the questions. Some highlights:
- With the public hearing imminent, all present agreed that it would not be prudent to discuss a date for ground-breaking. Gov. Paterson emphasized that the public must be given every opportunity to share its thoughts on the project, and the upcoming public hearing can't be a sham.
- Gov. Paterson did not see a need or a benefit to naming the Lighthouse site an Empire Zone due to the huge magnitude of private investment the project will generate.
- The governor brushed aside a question about Charles Wang's October 3 deadline, saying that "Like me, [Charles Wang] is negotiating." The governor said he hoped that, come October 3, Mr. Wang would be a satisfied customer, but reminded the assembled crowd that any good owner would keep his options open. (If you ask me, there could be enough momentum at that point to make the deadline a little softer than currently presented, and we could see a deal at the end of the year. However, of course, nothing is guaranteed, and our work is not over until the shovels hit the ground.)
I had a brief conversation with Joe Ra, Hempstead Town Attorney, after the formal event concluded, and he gave me more of a window into how next Tuesday's hearing will be run.
Unlike others (including myself) previously reported, Tuesday's hearing will not be the time for citizens to merely share their thoughts and say that we need the project. Mr. Ra believes that time will be at the re-zoning hearing, and this hearing is for interested agencies, elected officials, and the public to share thoughts on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) as currently constructed.
There will likely be two waves of people brought into the Adams Playhouse at Hofstra in order to do a flash poll of how many support the Lighthouse and how many oppose it. People are certainly welcome to sign up and speak at the hearing, but the first hour (9:30-10:30 AM) will almost exclusively consist of elected officials. Any interested agencies, officials, and the public will take up the rest of the time. Remember, this is more about the DGEIS as publicly constructed, and while we are welcome to share our thoughts and our passion, there will be another opportunity at the future re-zoning hearing.
I have little experience in hearings like this, so I can't editorialize on the Town's decision. I realize many citizens will take this chance to share their thoughts on the Lighthouse in general, and nothing can stop them from doing this, and I hope people realize that attendance is still vital.
This was another step forward in the Lighthouse process, and it is good to see the state playing an active role in getting this done. Our next opportunity to share our thoughts is during the public hearing next Tuesday, and we should begin planning for that now.
One thing is very clear (and Chris Botta reported something to the same effect): the huge gaggle of politicians from both sides of the aisle would not have been there today if momentum had not officially shifted for the Lighthouse Project. Remember, nobody ever wants to be seen on the wrong side of history, and history clearly favors building the Lighthouse.
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