It's been a long while since the last post here, and I apologize for that. I need to be better, and the fact that I've been very busy should not be an excuse. I hope you will forgive me, and while I can't promise that the frequency will be quite what it was in the beginning, I will do everything in my power to chat with you guys more often. That likely means some shorter posts and quick ideas instead of saving them for a big blog post that I end up pushing off repeatedly.
At this point, there has been precious little news on the Lighthouse Project, save Ed Mangano's ridiculous casino idea (more on this over the weekend), for many months. The Lighthouse web site is gone, replaced with a placeholder that still manages to get a dig in at the Town of Hempstead, and the Town, which promised action on an alternate plan by Memorial Day, is now 2 weeks late.
It's become par for the course in this theater of the absurd.
The Town of Hempstead has constantly received credit (to be fair, from itself) for "jump-starting" the Lighthouse process, after Charles Wang stopped paying F.P. Clark, the Town's environmental consultant, and seemingly shut down all operations. It's true that, on the surface, the Town has done something substantive, but reality is a little different. As I've said repeatedly, sources allege that the Town had refused to meet with the Lighthouse or anyone involved (including then-County Executive Suozzi) since 2003, citing ridiculous claims of "conflict of interest" that have never made sense. Every time I think of this, I pine for what could have been, because I can't imagine that a Town that gave a damn from the beginning could have produced a plan that worked. We could have at least a new Coliseum by now, but instead the Town chose to hide behind a moronic policy and empty proclamations of sitting like "judges," which conveniently ignores the fact that judges and umpires can be biased and, yes, even fallible. The tragic case of MLB umpire Jim Joyce is a constant reminder of that, even if his actions after the blown call were nothing less than noble and admirable.
Now, after 7 years of hiding behind this policy, the Town has done an about-face, a move which begs a simple question: Why? What was the impetus for the Town's sudden movement after years of intransigence? As I mentioned, what could have been accomplished had this been the idea from the beginning? Was this a cynical ploy hoping that the unthinkable would happen and Tom Suozzi would lose, in order for the Town to put its own stamp on things? We may never know....
Do They "Get It"?
I think there's an even more basic question to ask here: Does the Town of Hempstead really "get it"?
I keep coming back to an article written in April in Newsday (subscription required) that sent a shiver up my spine. Town spokesman Mike Deery shot back at yet another claim from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that the Town was stalling the Lighthouse Project and needed to get its act together. His response included this gem:
"Unlike the five other metropolitan-area professional franchises that opened magnificent new facilities in the past year, Mr. Wang has tied the Coliseum's future to the construction of a mini-city along Hempstead Turnpike.'' - Mike Deery
Where do we even begin with the things wrong with this?
Newsflash Number 1: The Lighthouse Project can't be compared to the other buildings opened in the past year because it's apples to oranges. Yankee Stadium and Citi Field both received direct (infrastructure) and indirect (tax-free bonds) support from the government. The Prudential Center in Newark was constructed with funds from the city and a naming-rights deal. The Jets and Giants pooled their assets, sold those hideous Personal Seat Licenses (PSL's) and received a sizable sum of money from the NFL's stadium fund.
The Lighthouse Project is not getting ANY of these things.
We've been over this so many times on this blog: arenas are usually heavily subsidized by the public, and when they are not the team involved must come up with other ways to raise the money, such as developing the surrounding land.
Newsflash Number 2: This is about more than a hockey arena for a hockey team. The Lighthouse Project represents things Long Island badly needs to avoid stemming the tide of brains and businesses (including, in the weeks and months ahead, sadly, my own) off the island in search of better opportunity. Is the Town of Hempstead so narrow-minded that they genuinely believe this is just a sports issue? Are they willing to spit in the faces of the thousands of people that could benefit from the new wave of thinking the Lighthouse could signal because they think it's nothing more than a ploy to get a new arena? What a joke....
I may not post as often, but this still riles me up the way it always did.
So, Now What?
Everything is in a holding pattern until the Town of Hempstead returns with its alternative plan. I am very apprehensive about what we will see because, quite honestly, F.P. Clark does not have a reputation for developing over-arching visions for mixed-use. There are many outstanding questions:
What Will We See?
Nobody is truly sure what kind of a plan the Town will propose. It could be a 10-20% reduction, which would likely be acceptable to the Lighthouse group (assuming they still want to do it). It could be a 30-40% reduction, which may be open for negotiation, or it could be something far more drastic. A more drastic cutback would almost certainly lead to the Lighthouse walking away.
When Will We See It?
The Town is still silent....I have no idea when they'll stop being silent.
How Closely Is the Town Working With the County?
It seems a bit strange that Ed Mangano would announce this casino nonsense without consulting the Town, but the Town seemed just as surprised as the rest of us.
What Will the Lighthouse Do?
Right now, the Lighthouse in general, and Charles Wang in particular, might be the biggest wild card in this process. Scott Rechler has a reputation in the development community, and Ed Mangano, as the new County Executive, does not want to own this problem, especially since his narrow margin of victory immediately calls his chances of being re-elected into question. I'm sure that, in a vacuum, these 2 would want to make a deal.
Charles Wang could be another story. He and Kate Murray have sniped at each other throughout most of the process, and he may already be negotiating for other options. It will be interesting to see, and it's difficult to read the tea leaves because nobody is talking.
We continue to be in a holding pattern with the Lighthouse Project, waiting for some sort of clarity. Until the Town comes back with its alternative plan, things will still be stalled. Hopefully, an acceptable alternative comes along, or the Town proposes a plan that maintains the spirit of the Lighthouse Project. Only time will tell....