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Gallof: Bad News Islanders Fans, New Nassau Coliseum Plan Is Fatally Flawed

County's Attempt To Find A Developer Will Likely Not Include Wang's Team
The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is seen from Chopper 880 - Uniondale, NY - Jul 27, 2011 (credit: Tom Kaminski / WCBS 880)

The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is seen from Chopper 880 – Uniondale, NY – Jul 27, 2011 (credit: Tom Kaminski / WCBS 880)

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By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com

NEW YORK (WFAN) — I don’t know if you have been reading the local newspaper lately, but if you have, you perhaps have seen this declaration: Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano is now looking for a master developer for “the Hub.”

The Hub, if you are not up on your Long Island nomenclature, is the term for that archaic hodgepodge that has been sticking and souring in many an Islanders fan’s belly as time has agonizingly ticked down toward the end of the 2014-15 regular season, when the team’s lease at the Coliseum runs out.

This new item is really just more revolutions about the same thing. Nobody seems to want to build based on the Town of Hempstead’s current zoning laws. However, according to Long Island political source, the town’s terms might in fact be negotiable, as in not set in stone.

Hempstead, it seems, only stood still for the Charles Wang and Scott Rechler-led Lighthouse Project, which never quite got very far in negotiations, despite the fact that the Islanders’ owner was ready to privately finance some $3.75 billion to get the thing done.

Mangano recently spoke of an RFQ, which for those of you that don’t know means “Request for Qualification.” It is legalese that is presented to potential developers, and, in this case, goes like this:

“The existing Coliseum and the entire site (including all parking areas), although owned in fee by the County, are presently controlled by SMG under a lease and by the New York Islanders (the “Islanders”) under a lease, with both leases expiring in July of 2015. The County has not entered into any final agreements with any of these entities to alter, amend or relinquish any of their present rights or obligations. However, the selected master developer (the “Master Developer”), however, may communicate or negotiate directly with SMG or the Islanders.

“Each entity responding (the “Respondent”) to this Request for Qualifications (the “RFQ”) is expected to be familiar with the site, existing land use conditions, zoning restrictions, encumbrances, and other regulation affecting further development of the site.”

Make sure you really take note of the term “existing land use conditions, zoning restrictions, encumbrances and other regulation.” This really put the biggest holes in the Lighthouse Project’s sails despite it having the backing of former Nassau Executive Tom Suozzi. His big mistake was he never appropriated any money for those items that would affect traffic, sewage, water and so on.

In fact, in discussions with various parties in advance of writing this piece, I was reminded on how responsibility fails to be placed on the former “Hub champion” who never followed through on items that the Town of Hempstead and others were all asking about leading up to the Lighthouse hearing.

Of course, this is all muddy water under a bridge. Let us return to the wordage of this RFQ:

“Nassau County envisions a statement of qualifications (“SOQ”) from Respondents that include a renovated or rebuilt Coliseum to host the New York Islanders franchise, or other professional sports team, convention space, bioscience, retail and housing opportunities.”

Yes, of course, the key phrase here is “or other professional sports team.” It means, just build something here for someone.

“Master Developer will be required to immediately begin negotiations with the Islanders and SMG on a comprehensive development plan (the “Project Plan”) based on historical facts and a decade of input to include time lines, coliseum construction, future development etc.”

Basically, folks, what this means is the developer now must solve everyone’s problems. And when he does, everything will be built, there will be sharing of revenue and the Islanders will remain. Fans will then come out of the woodwork to skip and jump in fields of joy, accompanied by butterflies and armed with lollipops!

Not quite.

The feeling on the reality or incentive for the Islanders to remain in Nassau has long sailed by those I have spoken to — not only from the Mangano Administration, but also from Nassau County and the Islanders themselves. There has been a long history here written by others, and myself, on how bleak this situation has been getting.

So, upon this new RFQ, have things changed?

GLASS HALF FULL

Of course, it is better for Wang to ultimately have two principles to negotiate with locally as we get closer and closer to 2015. Keep in mind, in a perfect world the new arena would be well on its way to completion before we get there. In addition, please remember the Islanders would be a tenant in both local options: Brooklyn and if anything comes of Nassau with a developer.

However, for that to work someone has to address a glaring flaw in all present proposals seemingly on the table. The previous plan, the Nassau voter-crushed referendum of the summer of 2011, involved revenue with Wang and the Islanders getting their own sales and related infrastructure while paying out a minimum of $14 million per year. Even then, that idea was fraught with all sorts of issues.

Any developer who responds to this RFQ would need to pull from his or her own pockets the building cost, and then be willing to share revenue with the Islanders in some way.

This, folks, is a tall order.

In Brooklyn, according to sources, the caveat is believed to be likely some sort of financial guarantee.

So in reality here, one plan is certain to become an actual plan because there is an actual venue: Brooklyn.

Nassau is still pie in the sky since there is no current developer. And when there is one, for this idea to contain even a shred of optimism there will need to be a combination of Daddy Warbucks and Santa Claus.

So lets move on to the next view…

GLASS HALF EMPTY & THEN SOME

As I’ve already mentioned, any developer would need to share revenue to convince the Islanders to stick around. Here, we are forced to delve even further into the severe limitations of what exactly can be built, thanks, of course, to the Town of Hempstead’s zoning.

According to sources, there has to be some wacky expectation of math here for it to work for any prospective developer, much less the Islanders, who will not be obligated to remain once their current lease self destructs.

As I’ve mentioned already here and several times previously in other columns, Wang and the Islanders need to be convinced and given incentive to stay. They will not just stick around without getting something out of it.

When Wang was willing to kick in $14 million per year for 30 years, the key part of last year’s referendum attempt, Nassau County’s take was only tax revenue. Most of the new arena’s revenues would have gone to Wang. So it’s easy to see why Wang and the Islanders were behind it. The attraction of the referendum deal was they stood to gain. A team is a business and that proposal was an opportunity to stop the bleeding and gain some revenue.

Now, with having to share revenues with a developer, there is extreme doubt that Wang and the Islanders would still be inclined to throw $14 million into the pot. Why should Wang give anything to a developer when he will not be the key beneficiary of that revenue?

This is a mountain to overcome, besides finding the developer who is willing to actually build the thing.

All that said, let’s instead blow up this entire fantasy…

THERE IS, IN FACT, NO GLASS

This plan and attempt’s intention is something else entirely.

The Town of Hempstead, according to a source, has never understood how much development is necessary to cover construction costs of a new arena. One has to only look to its zoning plan to see that, in addition to its inability to see past small minority-rich interests in places like Garden City.

“Due to that, how can there be any reasonable outcome?” a source told me.

It gets worse. It is my belief that there is, in fact, no glass at all, no real plan that includes the Islanders. This RFQ is just empty wordage.

PLAN B

Look at the RFQ. Notice two plans are requested: one with the Islanders, one without them. The second is of the most interest. I believe that this is the key point that will attract a developer.

The developers likely will present something that won’t work for Wang, who has leaked more than $200 million over the last decade. Nowhere in that plan is there one shred of incentive for the developer to keep the Islanders.

This the real aim of this RFQ, according to sources I have spoken with.

Once Wang, as expected, says no it will be time to turn to the more desired Plan B: development after the Isles leave. This is likely what any developer will really want, and what the real plan might be about. It is the real message of this RFQ.

If I can see this, so will Wang. This transparent attempt will in all likelihood push him even further to somewhere else.

According to one source close to the political situation, 1,000 fans giving heat on Twitter simply doesn’t matter. Mangano, according to the source, actually doesn’t matter one iota to the Islanders’ plight.

As far as many I have spoken to are concerned, it’s Brooklyn or splitsville.

“In the end this will only be decided by three people: Charles Wang, Gary Bettman and Bruce Ratner,” an Islanders source said, referring in obvious terms to the NHL’s commissioner and the kingpin of the Barclays Center.

“I would start looking around to see what the Brooklyn arena can handle,” the source said, referring to, among other things, a practice facility.

It has already been proven Islanders “fans” do not have the numbers to impact an election, especially when political parties act like fans being the protector against the (former) billionaire owner who wanted to raise your taxes, that is if we recall the words of the ever-bickering Republican and Democratic partisans of Long Island who have dictated the conversation.

They are the real reason that Nassau Coliseum remains an archaic illustration to a punch line of Nassau County’s joke of a 1970s entertainment and sports facility, while we sit in the 21st century.

The truth of the matter is that all the talk about developers or options in Nassau is far more likely a big charade. This recent announcement might be the beginning of a “blame game,” or a game of hot potato thrown around meaning to be left in the Islanders’ hands as everyone else makes plans for life without them. Even the Democrats, who are now effectively ineffectual as a minority, decided to tout their own plan the other day.

Their grand idea, headed by Jay Jacobs, the Democratic Party leader and man behind pushing for the defeat of last summer’s referendum plan, is to make Wang foot $320 million, while the county appropriates just $80 million for a new arena.

Yes, it’s true. You can’t just make this stuff up.

Basically both party administrations have cared more about the 70-year-olds in Levittown who vote than the Islander fans. Those who paid lip service to the Hub in the past actually didn’t do any action to support it. The new administration, having this situation fall into its lap, is now just grasping at straws and doing its best to make it appear like it is trying everything possible to save what was once the NHL’s greatest American-based franchise.

Don’t expect that to change.

Nothing has changed with this RFQ announcement nor will it if the parties that continue to make alternative plans ask for developers that have no mandate or incentive to keep the Islanders a central part of their planning.

That is the reality here. That’s been the reality for years. And it will remain the reality as we steam toward 2015.

I sent a request for comment to Executive Mangano, but have so far received no response.

Read more columns by B.D. Gallof and follow him on Twitter at @BDGallof

What do you think of this proposal from County Executive Mangano? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …