The Lighthouse Project is dead, gone, and not coming back (unfortunately for all of us). As I've said before, I'm disappointed the situation has come to this, with a public referendum for a bond issue toward a new arena (or "areener," for those of you who speak Lawn Guyland). However, just like with anything else, we owe it to consider all facts and options before making an informed decision.
Some people are reflexively opposing the new "areener" plan because they see it as a misplaced priority. I can't say I blame them on the surface, because Nassau County is not in the best shape. County workers are being laid off, Long Island Bus service is being cut, and despite all that Nassau County is still projecting a $52.7 million year-end deficit due to revenue shortfalls north of $120 million.
On the surface, the areener seems like a complete loser and non-starter, especially given all these factors.
Nassau Coliseum and the New York Islanders cannot be looked at in isolation or as purely a luxury good. Their presence is an economic driver for the region through many different factors, including:
- Tax Revenue (Includes sales tax, entertainment tax, etc)
- Indirect Spending (hotels, transportation, and meals for visiting teams and acts coming into Nassau Coliseum)
- Other economic multiplier effects (salaries of players and employees, some of which is pumped back into the economy through direct spending)
I've been poring through the 2006 study commissioned by Nassau County during the Coliseum site RFP process, and the do-nothing option projected that Nassau Coliseum and the Islanders generate over $60 million in tax revenue for the county per year. When you factor in indirect spending and other multiplier effects, I suspect the Islanders have an over $100 million effect on the local economy, and trust me, I will continue to dig to get a solid number on this.
What's more, those suggesting that Nassau County save workers' jobs and improve Long Island Bus are not considering the same money. I wish we could keep the same levels of service, and I fervently hope something can be done to save those county workers' jobs. It also makes me angry that the Lighthouse Project could have been generating millions in tax revenue for the county (more on this later), but the Town of Hempstead's intransigence has made this impossible. However, that's not reality, and we are not talking about the same money. No investor in his/her right mind will purchase bonds floated simply to pay off county expenses. Bondholders will only purchase when there is a reasonable expectation of making the money back, and a revenue-sharing agreement with Nassau County, the Islanders, and Nassau Coliseum can, if the numbers are right, provide more hope for recouping those dollars.
Again, I don't want the county to cut what it's been cutting, but we're not talking about the same money between that and the referendum.
I need to dig in order to get the most solid numbers possible on this, but the referendum should not be reflexively rejected because it's seen as more bad debt. Those who would want to defeat the referendum need to see the full picture of what the Islanders and Nassau Coliseum, which will almost certainly languish and become vacant if nothing is done, mean to the local economy.
Let's not shoot our noses off because there is a small pimple.
(Blogger's Note: Stay tuned as we dig more deeply into the economic multiplier effect and try to figure out how the revenue-sharing agreement with Nassau County could work. Lots to cover here)