Reporting Mike Xirinachs
UNIONDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Officials on Long Island will ask voters this summer to approve a $400 million plan to build a new hockey arena next to the current home of the Islanders.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano announced plans Wednesday to replace the aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with a new arena next door. The plan requires $350 million in bonding over 30 years. Voters also will be asked to approve $50 million in bonds for a minor league baseball park nearby.
Mangano insisted that revenue from the Islanders and sales tax generated by the new arena would be enough to repay the $400 million in bonds over the course of a new 30-year lease for the team, although neither he nor Islanders owner Charles Wang offered specifics on the financial arrangement.
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If approved, the proposal will keep the NHL team on Long Island until 2045, Mangano said at a raucous news conference Wednesday. The event at the nearly 40-year-old arena featured several hundred union workers in the grandstands chanting “build it now,” as well as a smattering of Islanders fans decked out in the team’s blue and orange jerseys.
The Islanders’ current lease at the coliseum expires in 2015.
Mangano joined WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Wednesday to outline the plan. “This gives an opportunity to invest in our county.”
“Redeveloping the hub is critical to creating jobs in our county and stimulating the local economy,” said Mangano. “With the support of business and community leaders, I am advancing a county-wide public referendum. This referendum will allow residents to decide whether we should build a sports-entertainment destination at the site of Nassau Coliseum that retains our Islanders, construct a minor league ballpark and create thousands of jobs.”
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The proposal is the latest in a series of efforts to renovate the coliseum and 77 acres of prime real estate surrounding the arena.
“Without a new arena, we will lose the Islanders, shutter the aging Coliseum and besides losing present jobs, will lose the currently substantial economic benefits including all the existing arena and secondary jobs,” Mangano said. “The construction of a new home for the Islanders and the redevelopment of the Coliseum site will generate thousands of construction and secondary construction jobs plus thousands of permanent jobs.”
He repeatedly insisted that no taxpayer money would be used to finance the project. The county, which is facing a $176 million budget deficit, is under the thumb of a state fiscal watchdog, which has approval over most contracts and other deals involving county finances. The watchdog, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, did not immediately comment on the coliseum proposal.
“The New York Islanders, and the arena, will contribute a significant part of their revenue streams to pay for our new, iconic venue,” Wang said.
“The intention and plan is not to cost the taxpayer a single dime,” Mangano said.
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Islanders owner Charles Wang proposed an ambitious $3.8 billion development in 2003, but it never got off the ground.
“It has been a long journey to get to this point and I am extremely confident that a new home for the Islanders will be built and a destination location will be achieved,” said Wang. “Building a new home for our NY Islanders is critical to the future of Long Island and its only professional sports team. The fans deserve it, and our local economy needs it.”
Pending approval from the county legislature, the referendum would be set for August 1.
Some business owners said they fully supported the new plan.
“I think it’s a smart move – the community needs it,” Phil Craft, of Coliseum Deli, told CBS 2′s Jennifer McLogan.
Some taxpayers, though, weren’t as excited, worrying about how the project would be paid for – and the inevitable crush of traffic the new arena project would bring.
“I am totally against it,” Lois Vanvorst said.
“The traffic – you wouldn’t be able to go on the Hempstead Turnpike,” Rase Denny said.
Mangano, who had previously discussed placing a casino on the 77-acre coliseum site in the heart of the county, changed direction Wednesday and said officials would now begin negotiating with the Shinnecock Indian tribe to possibly open a gambling casino at Belmont Park Race Track in Elmont.
Shinnecock tribal chairman Randy King, who was in the audience for the news conference, said the tribe is willing to consider several options for a casino on Long Island but did not commit to any specific location. He welcomed the opportunity to discuss a casino plan for the racetrack, which is located just over the New York City line and is accessible by a number of major highways, as well as a Long Island Rail Road station. There are no rail connections at the coliseum site.
When asked if the Belmont option would make the deal more palatable, King was non-committal.
“I’m not going to go that far, but the county exec. is making a compelling argument, and we are excited by it,” he said.
The tribe concluded a decades-long battle last year for federal recognition, a prerequisite for any tribe wishing to operate a casino. Leaders of the Southampton-based Shinnecock have conceded it is unlikely they would open a casino on their native land on far eastern Long Island, and have begun negotiations with elected officials in several locations about where to place a casino, or casinos.
What do you want to see happen to the Nassau Coliseum site? Sound off below…
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