By Peter Schwartz
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I just couldn’t stop myself.
As Billy Joel was banging out hit after hit during Tuesday night’s epic concert to close the Nassau Coliseum, I periodically just looked around the place. I wanted to soak it all in, at a building that was like a second home to me since I was a kid.
He appropriately opened the show with “Movin’ Out,” symbolic of the Islanders packing their bags for Brooklyn, and he finished up with “Only The Good Die Young” to end the Coliseum’s history after 43 years.
To be honest, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum had been in farewell mode for quite a while, as this was the third “finale” that I was able to attend.
First, I took my son to the Islanders’ final regular-season game. Then, I went to the Islanders’ Game 6 playoff victory over the Capitals, in what turned out to be their last game at the barn. And lastly, I went with my wife to the Joel concert. It was a great show and we had a fabulous time, but it was really tough to walk out of there knowing that I would never be there again.
That is, as far as this Coliseum is concerned.
All day, my wife kept asking me if I was going to cry, and my answer was that I really didn’t know how I was going to handle it. We parked the car and took a slow walk across the parking lot where we ran into some friends along the way.
Upon entrance to the arena, I saw so many familiar Coliseum employees who were working an event night for the final time. We made our way downstairs to the floor, took our seats and took a few pictures in front of Joel’s piano. I didn’t have time to get emotional. We were getting ready to watch what would be an amazing concert.
At the end of the day — or night, as it was — I kept everything together. I think I was able to do so because, as I kept looking around the Coliseum, only good things came to mind.
Whether it was a sporting event, a concert, the circus, family shows or other events in the exhibition hall, the Nassau Coliseum was always a destination for me growing up, and that continued with my own family in recent years.
All of the great memories I have from the Coliseum came storming through my head when Billy played “I’ve Loved These Days.”
The experience that my family, and others all over Long Island, enjoyed needed to continue.
Even with the Islanders’ departure about 30 miles west, there was still a question as to what would happen to the Coliseum. Long Island still needed a place for people to see shows and sporting events, so there was still a push to find someone who would take on the Coliseum project despite past failures that led to the Islanders leaving.
Enter Bruce Ratner and the people who run Barclays Center, who beat out Madison Square Garden for the rights to renovate the Coliseum and to develop the land around it.
Sometime this month, work is expected to begin on a $260.5 million project that will transform the Coliseum into a downsized but modern 13,000-seat facility that will host just about everything that the old place had.
The Islanders won’t be there, of course, but there are plans to bring them back “home” to play six games a year at the new place if they get approval from the NHL.
It’s already been announced that the first sporting event in the new Coliseum will be a Kentucky basketball game. The new building is also expected to host AHL hockey (possibly the relocation of the Isles’ Bridgeport Sound Tigers club), Nets preseason games, college basketball and hockey, boxing and Arena Football. High-profile concerts, the circus and other family shows are expected to be on the docket, as well.
I experienced a spectrum of emotions as I walked out of the Coliseum with my wife the other night. As we left our seats, she asked me if I was alright and if I was going to cry.
As much as I thought I was going to, I didn’t shed a tear — although inside I was a mess.
Upon leaving the arena floor, she asked again if I was OK as I continued to just keep looking around and taking pictures. I couldn’t believe that it was the last time I would be in the building.
Then I thought about it and realized I’ll always have the memories, and it was not goodbye. It was “see you later.”
My mom and dad took me to the Coliseum many times. I went there with friends. I slept outside the box office for tickets (before the Internet!). I went to the rally in the parking lot after the first Islanders Stanley Cup win and watched the parades for Cups two, three and four.
I covered games at the Coliseum and was blessed to do play-by-play for two teams that played there.
I took my wife on dates there and then we took our boys there.
Over the years we cheered and we booed. We screamed and we sang. We laughed and we cried — well at least I did after tough Islander losses!
As many people have said, the Coliseum was a dump — but it was our dump. The funny thing is that the only time it really smelled like a dump was when the circus was there.
The most important thing was that it was home, and in about 18 months it will be home again.
Thank you, Nassau Coliseum, for all of the great memories, and we’ll see you in December 2016!
So as we say goodbye to the old Nassau Coliseum and wait for the renovations that will result in a new Coliseum for Long Island, I give the last words to the man who closed the old barn the other night.
“So before we end and then begin, we’ll drink a toast to how it’s been. A few more hours to be complete, a few more nights on satin sheets. A few more times that I can say … I’ve loved these days.” — Billy Joel