While they slowly count the ballots to determine who our next County Executive will be**, we have been in a bit of a holding pattern related to the Lighthouse. There are many people ready to jump ship and declare the project dead, with some even indicating the Islanders' decision to hold a hockey camp for children in Flushing as an indication that the Lighthouse is dead and everyone is ready to move on. I'm going to avoid jumping to conclusions at this point, but the project is certainly in an ambiguous phase right now.
**Blogger's Note: My friend (and Hockey Independent colleague) B.D. Gallof reported on Hockey Independent that his intelligence indicates that Ed Mangano will be the new Nassau County Executive. Everyone I have spoken to has the same opinion, and I would bank on a Nassau County run by Ed Mangano in 2010 and beyond.
I'm going to out-nerd myself for a quick minute and get into quantum mechanics to explain the current state of the Lighthouse, through the famous example of Schrodinger's Cat.
Two States of Being
Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger developed his famous thought experiment in 1935 in response to a certain interpretation of quantum mechanics known as the Copenhagan interpetation. Copenhagen suggests, in simplest terms, that an occurrence that could go 2 different directions can't be known for sure until someone actually sees it. Follow the example:
Schrodinger explained his experiment: a cat is placed into a box with a vial of poisonous acid and a Geiger Counter (radiation detector) with radioactive material inside. If the Geiger Counter is activated, a hammer will fall and break the vial of acid, killing the cat. According to the Copenhagen interpretation, we won't know whether the Geiger Counter went off until we actually open the box to see if the cat is alive. Therefore, until the box is opened, some would say Schrodinger's Cat is both alive and dead.
It might make your brain hurt when you think about that cat in a box, but it's actually a perfect analogy of the Lighthouse. Until we observe the behavior of our elected officials, the Lighthouse Project is both alive and dead.
(I have a cousin who works for NASA and owns this shirt. When I first saw it I didn't know what was worse - that he owned the shirt or that I understood it)
The Lighthouse Project is Dead
The political angle of the Lighthouse Project could now cause dire consequences. The Lighthouse Project, for better or worse, has been closely identified with Democrats. Charles Wang and Scott Rechler continuously appeared at public events with Tom Suozzi, and the Islanders helped to give a platform to Kristen McElroy, Kate Murray's opponent for Town Supervisor, during her campaign appearances at Islanders games. Given the polarized political climate, it is possible that some Republicans may work against the project to extract their "pound of flesh," either by proxy against the almost-certainly-defeated Tom Suozzi or straight against Mr. Wang, whom some have described as a "bully." B.D. also reported - I kid you not - that some in the Town were upset that Mr. Wang didn't call Kate Murray to congratulate her on her victory. Regardless of how irrational that may be, I hope it does not signify another shift in the Town/developer relationship.
Mr. Mangano repeatedly stressed in our interview that the Town needed space to finish its state-mandated responsibilities. It's clear that, as County Executive, he will likely not pressure the Town of Hempstead to move forward as quickly as possible to get things done. This may give the Town space, but other debacles (Roosevelt Raceway, Courtesy Hotel, Bellmore Army Base) show that the Town does not move quickly unless it absolutely has to. I wonder how that will play, because it could go in either direction.
There are also people who are now concerned about the County portion of the approval process: specifically the lease negotiation. From a partisan stand-point, the Republicans in the Town of Hempstead have little motivation to release the Lighthouse from environmental review before a Republican-controlled legislature takes office in January, and there are already certain people firing warning shots over the lease. Legis. Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), the possible new (old) Majority Leader, immediately blasted the lease agreement as a bad one for Nassau County, and other Republican sources have described it as a "sweetheart deal." While Ed Mangano, likely the incoming County Executive, has endorsed the project, he also raised a specter that I had never heard before: the Coliseum property would have to be appraised before the Legislature could vote the agreement up-or-down.
At this point, I'm starting to become concerned about the timeframe for approval in the project. Since we are likely to still be in environmental review at the start of 2010, the ability to break ground on a new Coliseum next summer, after hockey season, is seriously in doubt. We should continue to watch this.
The Lighthouse Project is Not Dead
There are, however, plenty of reasons to still be hopeful, because in certain ways the conditions have become more favorable. First of all, a Nassau County controlled by the Republican Party removes one of the main sources of political conflict. After all, the Town and County would not be able to blame the opposing party for the process being politicized or held up anymore. It would cause voters to focus like a laser on the most important thing: whether or not the process is moving forward.
Many factors working in favor of the Lighthouse come down to simple necessity. Ed Mangano told me in our interview 2 weeks ago that nobody wants to see the Coliseum property remain an asphalt jungle riddled with weeds, and, given the decades of failure and the strength of the current Lighthouse proposal, there is overwhelming pressure to get the project done. Failure of such a high-profile project could have negative ramifications for decades to come, and it could signal that Long Island is not a place where forward-thinking people want to do busness, Mr. Mangano, I'm sure, would love to succeed where countless others have failed since John F. Kennedy were President and bring meaningful and catalytic development to the site of Nassau Coliseum.
Charles Wang and Scott Rechler also have a motivation to get this done. They are native sons of Long Island willing to invest their own time and money to bring a transformative project to Long Island. They have continuously emphasized both their commitment to the area and their willingness to seek other opportunities if they were left with no choice.
Suffolk County (which would be an utter disaster) has proposed that Mr. Wang seek opportunities there, and Queens recently issued an RFP for the re-development of Willets Point near Citi Field in what is now the Iron Triangle. There are compelling arguments that Wang and Rechler will not continue if the Lighthouse fails. After all, Mr. Wang is impatient that the project has taken 7 years to get to this point (5 since public unveiling), and he has repeatedly shared his frustration with the time it has taken, so I doubt he would have the appetite to wait another 3-5 years and cast his lot with a new option.
At the end of the day, we have not heard public pronouncements of interest in other specific areas from Mr. Wang. This proves to me that he is committed to seeing the Lighthouse Project through to completion, and he may be willing to do what it takes to get the project approved.
What We Know
Right now, the Town of Hempstead is still plodding through the SEQR process, with the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) up for review. There is no indication of a forthcoming vote, and leaks continue to come out of Town Hall discussing so-called "serious holes" in the proposal. At the same time, many still believe there will need to be a change to the size and scope of the project before things could go forward.
However, I also want to focus on the one major, over-arching thing we know: LONG ISLAND NEEDS THE LIGHTHOUSE PROJECT. We are losing business because of the lack of a convention center. Companies are taking jobs elsewhere due to the lack of the right kind of office space. Apartment-style housing is sorely needed. Most of all, Long Island is at a crossroads, and it needs to either change or fade into oblivion. It needs a catalyst, and there is no better option than the Lighthouse Project.
I told Ed Mangano 2 weeks ago that I did not care who received the credit for the Lighthouse Project, as long as it was done. I stand by that statement, and I hope we can all meet at a ground-breaking in 6-7 months. It's doable, but many things would have to go right.
This is going to be a frustrating time for us as Lighthouse Project supporters, and I don't know how much we will be able to do from here on out to influence the process (aside from showing up at the hearings and continuing to write/call). We are going to have to watch the process unfold, as the Town of Hempstead hasn't said much about the environmental review since the re-zoning hearing on September 22, and I will relay everything I find out.
Expect a series coming up about how each side (Nassau County, Town of Hempstead, Lighthouse) may be willing to make a deal and move this forward.
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