(Hat tip to my good friend Kathy for this one - I hadn't known the full details until she motivated me to read up)
I've wondered for a long time about the nature of the relationship between the Lighthouse Project, Nassau County, and the Town of Hempstead. The Lighthouse has hardened its position of late, but before that the County was content to sit on the sidelines, and people within the Town of Hempstead have openly admitted that they expected the proposal to simply go away. In the meantime, a small group of opponents who refuse to accept that 25% is not a majority have been trying to curry favor in an attempt to neuter the project beyond any level of usefulness to the community. I marveled at how the sides did not seem to view each other as partners, with the Lighthouse and former Nassau executive Tom Suozzi repeatedly accusing the Town of Hempstead of dragging its feet and the Town of Hempstead calling Charles Wang a bully.
I've also wondered what would truly happen if the project were to die....and all of this leads me to the saga of St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan.
St. Vincent's, as many know, is a hospital located at the tip of Greenwich Village, and it gained notoriety for treating many people affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The hospital has recently fallen on hard times, with a reported $700 million in debt that, as a private institution, it could not easily recoup. St. Vincent's resorted to a controversial, but creative, plan: build a new campus across the street (current site of the O'Toole Building...which is either a masterpiece or the ugliest building in Manhattan, depending on whom you ask) at a cost of $1.6 billion, partly financed by selling their current hospital building for $300 million so it could be converted to condos....Sound at all familiar?
The plan met with fierce opposition from the community for everything from the proposed height of the new hospital to the demolition of the O'Toole Building, which has landmark status. Despite approval to revoke landmark status and clear the way for construction, the sides continued to bicker, and St. Vincent's sank deeper into debt. The hospital recently had to receive a $6 million emergency loan from New York State in order to remain in business, and with hopes of a development dwindling it is highly likely that the hospital will either close or be taken over and re-opened in a scaled-down capacity.
Predictably, many residents are now upset about the very real prospect of losing their hospital, one of the very few in Manhattan below 14th Street, and being left with either an empty or under-utilized shell of a building. It also means that amateur architects may be able to debate for a few more years (or decades) whether or not the O'Toole Building is ugly (hat tip to Curbed.com on that one).
(Blogger's Note: I'm not saying I'm in favor of the St. Vincent's development, or that I'm against it - I believe it's an interesting case study whose lessons we can apply to the Lighthouse. No more, no less)
How Does This Relate to the Lighthouse?
You're probably wondering why I am talking about some hospital on a blog about the Lighthouse Project, but I believe it has everything to do with what we're facing now.
The Town of Hempstead has taken full control of the zoning process, leaving many (including our guest blogger, Marc Nicols) concerned that they will scale the project down to such a degree that it's not worth doing for the developer and does not provide the benefit to the community. It's a very real concern, because we still have little insight into the Town of Hempstead's vision for the site.
I just ask you, quickly, to imagine what happens if the Lighthouse group leaves...
The Islanders are almost certainly gone, depriving Nassau Coliseum of its main tenant and throwing into doubt whether it makes financial sense to renovate the arena at all.
It would likely take years to find a new developer, who would build something that was neither big nor bold.
In that time, the blight would get worse, traffic would get worse, and more people seeking new opportunity will go somewhere other than Long Island. Neighboring communities like Uniondale, Garden City, and Hempstead will feel the lack of opportunity.
Then, just like those who so bitterly opposed anything that could save St. Vincent's, the people who so roundly oppose the Lighthouse Project will rise up as one and ask:
Why can't we do something?
I don't want to wait that long, when it's too late to effect the greatest possible change. I call on the Town of Hempstead and the Lighthouse Project to collaborate in the spirit of building something all Long Islanders can be proud of, and something that will put us away from the path of becoming New York's "Sixth Borough."
Let's not end up like the sorry tale of St. Vincent's - let's do something now.