For about 2 weeks, sources have been whispering that "big news" about the Lighthouse Project was "imminent." We finally got a bit more clarity on what that will be yesterday, and that's why it seemed so interesting that Charles Wang was suddenly dropping in on the Islanders broadcast, and Howie Rose suggestively mentioned a potential update on the Lighthouse Project.
I thought this was a great plan, a way to proactively counter what I heard was coming from the Town of Hempstead. However, the interview was fairly tame, with Mr. Wang dodging any question directly related to the Lighthouse and claiming there had been "no communication" with the Town since his October 3 "certainty" deadline passed.
Mr. Wang repeated what has now become his mantra: Just tell me Yes or No.
You know I have little love for the Town of Hempstead's policies, especially since their asinine policy of not meeting with developers during a review has largely created the impasse. Active communication at the beginning would have likely led to the new Coliseum being finished right now, and I think it's utterly inexcusable that, over 5 years after the project was first publicly unveiled, we still have no indication of the Town of Hempstead's thinking. Sources have told me Kate Murray, citing that "she will eventually have to vote on it," begged off meetings with the Lighthouse principals as early as 2003.
However, when you talk about the recent issues, the blame for many of them can be laid solely at the feet of Charles Wang and the Lighthouse Project.
First, according to multiple sources, the report of no communication since October 3 is simply not true. Charles Wang and Kate Murray apparently met over breakfast in the middle of October, with each side agreeing to keep negotiations out of the media and work together for a common purpose. Once the election began to change, beyond anyone's expectations, each side went dark. This was only exacerbated by that Long Island Press report that the Lighthouse Project is dead.
I've repeatedly criticized the media blackout by the Lighthouse, saying it did not serve their purposes and allowed the Town of Hempstead to seize control of the debate through ridiculous statements claiming the proposed project is as dense as the Upper West Side of Manhattan (if it were 8 times larger and had 3 times the population density).
With the economy being what it is, a favorite Town of Hempstead talking point has centered around financing, an especially salient issue given the conditions of the U.S. economy. I've thought for a long time that financing would not be an issue because a) the project would be built over 10 years, b) the Lighthouse could sell development rights to certain parts of the project as part of the financing, and c) Messrs. Wang and Rechler have equity in the site, through the team, the Marriott, and the Rexcorp property surrounding the Coliseum site. Others have doubted me, and it came up repeatedly in the Re-Zoning hearing.
This is where it is coming to a head. I reported previously that the billing dispute with environmental consultants Frederick P. Clark Associates (of Westchester), which briefly flared up in September, is now back, with the consultants not working for months.
The Town of Hempstead is using this and the recent total quiet from the Lighthouse to suggest that the Lighthouse doesn't have the financing to see the project through and is now trying to run out the clock. Given all the recent moves from the Lighthouse, it's not even an unreasonable thing to wonder anymore.
Meanwhile, Charles Wang continues to blame the Town and insist he just needs to hear yes or no - even though they can't by law consider re-zoning for the Lighthouse until the environmental review is complete. The environmental review can't be complete until all issues are addressed. All issues can't be addressed if the Town's environmental consultant is not working.
Both sides are about to go at each other again. B.D. Gallof (who wrote a wonderful piece on this....drop into Hockey Independent to see what condition our condition is in) have heard whispers from other sources that we will not be sure of the true nature of this until the Town's next move. Apparently, the Town of Hempstead will be calling a press conference to up the ante and increase pressure on Charles Wang to fulfill his part of the bargain.
It's very hard to see the end-game here. Nassau County, which Mr. Wang re-iterated is his top preference, has its own set of problems, including an intransigent government that has not seen itself as a partner throughout this process. Queens could be an option, but 29 developers submitted bids, so the Lighthouse would have to do significant lobbying and dealing to give themselves an edge. Traffic detours are going up in Brooklyn - I saw them for myself last week - but the Nets are moving to the Prudential Center in Newark as a "temporary" waystation. With the rabid Brooklyn opposition planning more lawsuits, that move could end up being permanent.
One thing is clear: after sacrificing so much for a dream we made our own, the Lighthouse Project's silence feels like a slap in the face. It doesn't matter whether we are for it in the exact way some people wish; we want this to happen and we have come whenever asked.
In the same vein, we elected the Town of Hempstead representatives to defend our best interests. While I do not believe Charles Wang should get everything he wants - and it is very clear there would need to be at least a 20% reduction for this to get done - I have never seen a group of people willing to invest billions of private dollars into an area treated so badly. Economic development is not and should not be treated by our government as an inconvenience.
At this point, we deserve the truth.
We deserve honest negotiations.
Stop pointing the finger at each other.
Start working together, and, if that is no longer possible, drop this charade.
One thing's for sure: things will get worse before they have a chance of getting better.