Sunday, May 15, 2011

Welcome To Plan B

Hello, everyone.  It's been a very long time, but please understand that I've been caught up with working and trying to build a business (which is finally, seemingly, on the right track after numerous fits and starts).  I'm eternally thankful for all the support I got from you when this blog was putting out posts nearly every day, and I hope we can pull together for the next 68 days.

Because end-game is truly here - and August 1 will be a big day.

I apologize for taking a few extra days on this, but Blogger was down Thursday and Friday, and I got sidetracked by something else yesterday.  It's probably for the better, because there was a lot to digest coming out of Wednesday's press conference, and I feel this was too important to shoot from the hip.

Hate To Say I Told You So

I'm currently working a consulting project that requires me to travel and live in a hotel Monday-Friday, every week.  I was relaxing Monday evening after a late day at the office, when suddenly my phone started buzzing off the hook.

I could barely believe my eyes - news. Actual news about the Coliseum site!

I think the content of that news was even more shocking than the news' very existence - the tip was that Ed Mangano, Kate Murray, and Charles Wang were going to announce, formally, a $400 million plan to build a new arena for the Islanders, and a minor league baseball stadium on Mitchell Field, and that it would be put to referendum for the voters to approve it.

My first reaction: Shock.

My second reaction: Wonder why, if it's apparently so easy to do this, the Lighthouse was never put to referendum.

My third reaction: I'm really glad I didn't decline a renewal of this domain name back in March.....

My fourth reaction: YOU SEE?! I KNEW IT!

I was never all that offended by being called a shill by people reading this site, mostly because I knew I wasn't.  Unlike our intrepid County Executive and Town Supervisor, I considered myself someone who dealt in simple fact and reality, and I screamed that reality at the top of my lungs for the whole life of this blog:  Unless there is a development on the Coliseum site, a new building cannot be built without private financing.  I ran numbers, I interviewed experts, and I consulted every source I could - but some still refused to listen.

Now that the Town of Hempstead has gutted the Lighthouse of its soul and ambition, we are left with Plan B: a new arena built from bonds floated by Nassau County and backed up by the good faith and credit of....all of us.

I saw this coming, but I take no joy in that fact, nor is this post meant to be a victory lap...But the fact bears repeating: this is the natural outgrowth of the Lighthouse Project's death.

The Details

We all know the details, I'm sure, but it's good to have a run-down for easy reference:
  • $400 million bond issue, to cover a new arena and minor league baseball stadium
  • Put to public referendum August 1
  • Debt service ($40-50 million per year) to be paid from a percentage of revenues on the site
  • Bond issue needs to be approved by county legislature, assuming voters approve it
  • The election date and the bond issue will have to be approved by NIFA, the state board that has taken control of Nassau County finances after Ed "What $186 Million Deficit?" Mangano couldn't get the budget under control
Now that we have that out of the way, let's get to some reaction...

Initial Impressions

Once the news became official, and Ed Mangano announced the vote on his new "areener" (stolen from Lighthouse Hockey, and said affectionately), I had a few immediate impressions:

First the press conference, which was notable because it had Wang, Murray, and Mangano all speaking favorably about this new plan, was just as notable for what was not mentioned.  There were no details mentioned about this plan, and only vague mentions of how exactly this bond issue would be structured.  There are significant questions, such as who would be responsible for covering cost overruns and who would pay the debt service if an outside act (such as another NHL lockout next year) depresses revenue in the new building.  I hope voters can have some of this information before going to the polls.

That having been said, I remember a meeting last July at the county seat where we pressed one of Ed Mangano's representatives for the vaunted "plan" for a Coliseum casino that Mangano insisted he had.  It turned out to be an Excel sheet with revenue numbers someone pulled out of their ass and no projections on new costs to the community.  My friend asked me for a prospectus on this bond issue, but it's clear the prospectus doesn't exist, though I think it needs to before the vote happens.

The political hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle was sad, though not unexpected.  Democrats who faded into the woodwork once Tom Suozzi was defeated suddenly came out in force to blast this new plan because, in the Lighthouse Project, a compelling and viable private proposal was on the table.  Republicans who blasted the original Lighthouse plan as "a landgrab," "a sweetheart deal," and "corporate welfare," now suddenly spun on a dime and proposed to pay for the building themselves - something that in my estimation actually IS corporate welfare! 

I was also very intrigued to see what role NIFA would play - and we saw them fire the first shot in a scathing press release that called this referendum a "colossal waste of money."  Let's keep an eye on that...

I was also intrigued that we haven't heard a peep out of the people who opposed the Lighthouse so forcefully, led by the coalition in Garden City.  In fact, sources speculate that Garden City seems to be in favor of this because it would be built (theoretically) in conjunction with the Town of Hempstead's scaled-down zone. 

So, to recap.....Apartments = Blight.  Public Debt = Just Fine.  Good to know.

Finally, Belmont Racetrack is a much better place for a casino, because the land is state-owned, already zoned for a casino, has mass transit access, and is supported by the local community.  I'm glad to see the casino push moved to that property, but I wonder why Mangano didn't go here to begin with.  Belmont is clearly the best option, but Ed may have been relying on bad advice or doing his benefactors a favor....

Overall View

When I think about what could have been, and the hope the Lighthouse Project represented for so many people on Long Island, I am saddened to near tears.  What's more, I feel like a raging hypocrite for even considering voting in favor of this proposal, because I have repeatedly said I'm not in favor of spending public money in any form on a private sports facility.

I am tempted to oppose this on principle, but on the other hand I don't know if I can.  Let's not mince words: the Lighthouse Project is dead and buried, and we will not get a visionary beacon built on the Coliseum site.  I wonder if those who would oppose this out of continued support for the Lighthouse are shooting themselves in the foot....I'm reminded of one of my favorite scenes from Mad Men, when Rachel Menken tells Don Draper about the concept of Utopia, and how it has 2 meanings in the classical Greek: "the good place," or "the place that cannot be" (or simply "no place").  

Right now, the Lighthouse Project has morphed from our "good place" into our "place that cannot be," and we may now be facing a choice between a new arena and the scaled-down development plan, or nothing at all.  This referendum may truly be the last, best hope for the Coliseum site.  The scaled-down zone will likely become less profitable for any developer, Charles Wang or otherwise, if there is not a thriving "areener" on the property that brings in people (who spend money) for a guaranteed X number of dates per year.

There are key questions that need to be answered (Lighthouse Hockey had a great list of them) before this goes to a vote, but this could now become the pivotal moment.

I'm also not sure how the dynamics will play out between now and the planned vote.  Democrats seem to be lining up to blast this project, but the trade unions, a main Democratic constituency, are solidly in favor of it.  Does this dampen their opposition?  In the same vein, do Mangano and Murray's unquestioned support lead to a superior ground game led by the Nassau and TOH Republican machine?  Do Charles Wang and the Islanders finally treat this like a political campaign, which they should have done with the Lighthouse Project to begin with?

Most important of all: What role will NIFA play in this?  They seemed very upset about the announcement, and they have to approve both the election date (since elections cost money, after all) and the bond issue.  Charles Wang has promised to reimburse the county's costs for holding the referendum (assuming he wins, naturally), but questions still remain. Some say NIFA will hold the line, especially because they were appointed by a Democratic governor, but others see a more nuanced view.  If Wang promises to cover Nassau's costs, and the measure approves, some believe there is no chance NIFA would stand in the way of the thousands of jobs this project would create.

It's also worth remembering that this may not necessarily be a cost to the county, at a time when public workers and services are being cut.  The money would come from bond-holders, and that money could not be used to save those jobs, as much as I wish we could.  In the same vein, we have to look at the impact doing nothing and having the site become barren would have on our tax burden - I'd have to imagine the numbers are at least comparable, if not worse.  These questions should be investigated.

At the end of the day, just like with the Lighthouse saga, nothing is guaranteed.

Bottom Line

This referendum should not be considered a mortal lock to pass, and it is a tragedy that we've come to this when we know what could have been done with the Coliseum site.  However, we must also caution against reflexively voting against this in support of an ideal that now, very clearly, can never be.  Ed Mangano and Nassau County owe us details so we can make an informed decision, and we owe it to Nassau County to look at this with an open mind.

We've been pleading for answers and clarity for many years; I've followed this since I wrote a paper on the initial unveiling for a law class in 2004.

On August 1, we will have that answer.

I hope it's the right one.

Blogger's Note: Let There Be Light(house) is re-opened for business, and will stay in operation until the "areener" vote on August 1.  I hope to run shorter posts from myself, keeping my time constraints in mind, and I invite anyone - for it, against it, or just wanting to make a statement - to email me and get your name out there.  Who knows, we could even finally get a response from old "friend" of the blog Christine Mullaney.....Though I wouldn't call the Shinnecocks and place a bet on that. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support.  Let's pull together and see this cause through to a final answer.






  1. Excellent Article. You have a gift my friend.. and I hope that Mangano can get his act together to provide the details we all deserve and need. As a diehard Islander fan, there is opposition against this.. and it will only build if they don't start educating the general public. For no knowledge, and false knowledge, will only lead down a path of tears and heartache.

  2. You're right, not a lock to pass. However, if managed properly from a informational and PR perspective, the powers that be can certainly move the pendulum in their direction. My confidence in their ability to do that is muted, however. Keep at it, Nick. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.

    Mike Carey, fmrly Islanders360

  3. Great to see you back. This should offer some interesting debate during the summer off season. I'm wearing my lighthouse T-shirt as I type so I hope this time the project gets done.

  4. Ed Mangano,Kate Murray and Charles Wang need to have a solid plan with details in place to present to the county residents. NIFA needs strong information from all involved to have them on board. At the end of the day Ed, Kate and Charles use public relations, media and county support they will have most involved on board

  5. Sign Guy said Great to hear from you and your thoughts. Lets make this good news work for all of us and keep the positive side in sight. Every one wins with a world class state of the art Arena and the income it will bring year after year for Nassau County and all of Long Island.

  6. NICK - I've followed your blog for a long time...please help me understand, wasn't the main point of the lighthouse was that an arena by itself would not be profitable as explained by you in the past, what has changed???????

  7. Hopefully, Wang has learned from the lighthouse project and will be prepared to answer the questions surrounding the project. Please let this workout


  8. Great to see you back Nick....keep up the great work.

    Tony Stabile
    2010 Isles Blog Box

  9. I highly doubt very many people in Garden City truly care about the effects of the proposed development on the water supply. First of all, there are 3 golf courses in the town which occupy like 1/6 of the land. The amount of fertilizers and pesticides used on them, let alone the resident's lawns, is extremely damaging to the water supply. Also, let's just say most people in the town vote on a federal level for a particular party whose politicians have been gutting every piece of environmental legislation since President Nixon created the EPA.

  10. Hey Nick,
    Good to see you're back...I'm happy for you that your biz is coming around...Regarding the proposed plan, I thought that NIFA cant stop the vote...Thats what I thought I read, anyway...

  11. IP - NIFA can absolutely stop the vote. They have to approve any contract over $50,000, and elections cost money. Estimates range from $600k-1.8mm.

    Anon (12:34 AM): My position from the beginning is and continues to be that "just an arena" isn't profitable...if privately financed. "Lighthouse Economics" on top showed why the project existed - Wang's basic tactic at the time was that if the public wouldn't put up any money for the building, he'd do it, but he needed a way to make his money back. Note, if Wang's contribution goes down to $100 million or so, then it becomes profitable for him. That's the calculus here.

    New post coming this evening.

  12. The cost of the vote in NOT a contract. NIFA should have nothing to say about the vote.

    Unscientific vote by Newsday showed (last Tuesday)

    63% in favor
    7% leaning toward YES
    10% need more information
    20% opposed.

    However, this week I spoke with 6 Nassau voters. 3 Isles fans, 3 sports but not hockey guys. All six said they will vote NO because of the taxes in Nassau County.

    3 of these guys all college educated said the money to pay off the bond will come from the Isles profit and the taxpayers pay if the Isles lose money. Even after I told them the pay back came from revenue not profit, they remained skeptical.

    THE EXACT METHOD OF PAYBACK should already have been made clear to voters. Why does Nick & the rest of us still have to do things the County & Wang should be doing?

    Desmond Ryan is a lobbyist who has played both sides of the aisle & his credibility has often been in question.

    At the last home game Mike Picker told me that Suffolk is very interested in the Isles, but Suffolk would not get involved until Nassau is ruled out. Suffolk County Republicans do not want to step on Nassau Republicans toes. More important Suffolk soes not want to be used as leverage in this matter.

  13. Copying for the benefit of those not reading further back:

    Hi Art, thanks for your comment. You hit on something that I've wondered myself many times, and something that will be the topic of a post either tomorrow or Sunday.

    Long story short, you're right. Mangano and Wang owe us and everyone else a full explanation of this, and it shouldn't have to be up to us to do the heavy lifting. I'm ready to inform people and I'll interview anyone (for or against) willing to talk to me....but this isn't my job. Nor is it yours, or the sign man's. We shouldn't have to be the only ones on the front line, and I hope they've learned their lesson from what happened to the Lighthouse.