For the last few weeks, we have heard very little about the Lighthouse process that was not rumor and innuendo. Anxious bloggers and supporters (myself included) still hoped against hope that we would hear something from the Lighthouse to break their silence, especially in the face of rumors from well-connected sources that the Lighthouse Principals could be dissolving their partnership, thus effectively ending the project.
In fact, the most vocal person in the past several months has been NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has never missed an opportunity to speak to the media and accuse the Town of Hempstead of "stalling" the project and "dragging it out" for years. As the Town took control of the process and sent even more misleading and anti-project letters to area citizens (more on that later), we still have not heard anything from the Lighthouse.
Yesterday, in a way, the Lighthouse Project spoke, though it is likely not the way any of us would have hoped they would (hat tip to Islanderbill for first alerting me to this, by the way). Now, visitors to the Lighthouse Project web site are not greeted with the grand, $3.7 billion vision for suburban renewal; rather, they see this:
(Click Here to see full-size)
Many, including myself, were taken aback by this, because it is the clearest broadside against the Town of Hempstead in months. Since the Lighthouse Project refuses to speak on the record, even though some sources are still insisting behind the scenes that it's not dead, we are forced to come up with our own suggestions and questions. As I've seen before, there is an optimistic view to this, a pessimistic view, and questions that need to be answered:
Until there is official word from someone directly involved in the process, we can't assume the Lighthouse Project is dead. In addition, the Town of Hempstead and the Lighthouse are still operating under the Designated Developer Agreement between Nassau County and the Lighthouse that was approved during the administration of the current County Executive, Tom Suozzi (current County Executive Ed Mangano voted in favor of the measure as a County Legislator). Some people believe that this is simply a gesture by Charles Wang and the Lighthouse that they are willing to work with the Town of Hempstead in an attempt to make a deal.
If the original plan is no longer available online, then it has become clear that Mr. Wang and his group recognize that they will not be able to build the project as originally proposed. They are now signaling a willingness to work, as long as it achieves the goal of a good project that will be profitable, benefit the community, and allow the New York Islanders to remain in their rightful home.
This point of view reflects what I have previously called the "dirty little secret" in the Lighthouse process: it is easiest for both sides to come to a deal, since the alternatives are difficult for both sides:
Lighthouse Project: The options for moving the Islanders within the area, or of another project with similar commercial benefit, are slim at this point. The Brooklyn arena continues to be built, with the last hold-out having finally sold his property last week, but it would still require a retrofit, and some, especially those against the Atlantic Yards proposal to begin with, have called Brooklyn a "fantasy" of desperate hockey fans and political hacks like the Brooklyn Borough President. In addition, as mentioned before, Queens would require a similar process, which the Lighthouse acknowledges has already gone on for 7 years here. The city would be on board, but the local community would not be in any way close to what we see with the Lighthouse. I don't know whether the Lighthouse Project would want to either start over or become a tenant somewhere else, regardless of how badly many hockey fans hope it happens (count me in that group, in the event the Lighthouse can't happen).
Town of Hempstead: The Town has botched the Lighthouse process since Day 1, refusing to meet with the developers and relying on tricks like that phony stimulus drive which merely assume the stupidity of Town of Hempstead voters. Even though Kate Murray and the Town Board were overwhelmingly returned to office, you wonder if the Town could handle the debacle of losing a project the vast majority of citizens want (remember, in the latest News 12/Hofstra poll, supporters outnumber opponents 2:1, and if you scaled the project down that number nears 3:1). The Town loves to harp on financing, but any other developer would encounter the same financing issues as the Lighthouse Project.
In the same vein, the Town seems prepared to gut the Lighthouse Project beyond all recognition, if you trust the rhetoric. However, as another blogger has pointed out, what message would that send? If the Town starts using a machete on the project, the headlines write themselves:
TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD IS AGAINST A RENOVATED NASSAU COLISEUM
TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD IS AGAINST AFFORDABLE HOUSING
TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD IS AGAINST ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD ADVOCATES MORE OF THE SAME
It's much harder to spin that, and we are not as gullible as the Town would like to believe.
Many others believe this is a charade that is delaying the inevitable. To these people, the Town is going to gut the Lighthouse Project beyond all recognition in an attempt to win the post-game spin. You could just hear the Supervisor parroting the half-truth that "The Town offered Charles Wang a reasonable proposal, and he decided to walk away."
The Lighthouse, in the same vein, could be making vague signals about cooperation, but they still stopped paying environmental consultants F.P. Clark over half a year ago. Some, including astute reader Derek, believe this is because the Lighthouse wants to place the onus on the Town of Hempstead to tell them what can and can't be built, but still others believe that it's yet another case of actions speaking louder than words.
I do not know which side is right, but you could definitely see how many can interpret the statement on the Lighthouse web site as an opening salvo in the spin wars that will almost certainly ensue in the event the project ceases to be.
As we move forward now, we need to ask certain questions of both sides to increase our understanding:
- Are the 2 sides meeting and negotiating?
- Are the 2 sides both demonstrating a desire to get a project done?
- What kind of reduction will either side accept?
- How hardened are those positions
- When will someone say something in public?
We may not know the sound of 1 hand clapping, but with the Lighthouse gone silent and the Town spinning and exaggerating with seeming impunity, we do know the sound of 1 side debating. It's enough.
I've said (in more of a hopeful tone than anything else) that we will likely have closure on the Lighthouse Project issue in a matter of months. We are all hoping for a solid resolution to this that will improve our community and provide a stable home for the New York Islanders, but, more than that, we want to know the truth. We need to know if the sides are negotiating in good faith, or whether this is just the start of what promises to be a bitter and ugly blame game.
No more slogans. No more finger-pointing. We want answers.
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