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Nassau County Announces Plans for New Arena

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
There was a buzz in the air and there were people wearing Islanders jersey’s in the stands at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday morning. No, there was no hockey being played, but a historic announcement was made. It’s one that finally put the Islanders Country at ease; there are plans for a new arena in Nassau County.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano was joined by Islanders Owner Charles Wang and Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray in officially announcing plans to build a brand new state-of-the-art arena on the site of the current Coliseum.

“Today is a great day for Nassau County,” Mangano announced as he took the podium to cheers of ‘build it now’ by union laborers in attendance. “For too long, Nassau Coliseum and the property that surrounds it, has laid to waste, rather than generate revenue for the County that can help all Long Islanders… The aging Coliseum is no longer competitive with other sports complexes and conference centers around the region and the nation.”

Mangano continued, “Long Island’s only professional sports team, the New York Islanders, face the potential of having to leave Nassau County in 2015, when their lease expires, should a new sports arena not be built. As your county executive, I can tell you right now, our residents don’t want to lose our only professional sports team.”

The County Executive went on to announce a public referendum, to authorize a $400 million bond and provide the funding for the new arena. The vote is set for August 1, 2011.

“Today we move forward in a new direction,” Mangano said. “I’m putting the question of a new sports arena and minor league ballpark to the people. With the support of dozens of business and community leaders and all of you here today, I am advancing a county-wide public referendum so that our residents may decide whether we should build a sports-entertainment destination at the site of Nassau Coliseum and surrounding area.”

Unique to this announcement was the emphasis by all parties on pay-back of the debt created by the bond.

“With voter approval, residents will enter a partnership with the county, New York Islanders, and the minor league ballpark by providing the financing for improvements in ‘The Hub’,” Mangano said. “In return, the Islanders will compensate the residents by paying the county a share of each dollar generated at the new sports arena. Moreover, all contracts to operate on facilities within ‘The Hub’ will require operators to compensate the county. The intention here is not to cost the tax payer one single dime.”

The intention here is not to cost the tax payer one single dime. - Edward P, Mangano, Nassau County Executive
“In short, this plan requires private sector operators to compensate the County the cost of financing the plan,” Mangano said.

This means that revenue from the Islanders will be used to pay back the bond. This was done specifically to absorb the burden to Nassau County taxpayers.

“This option comes after trying many creative public, private partnerships that have failed,” Mangano said. “We have just three years to get this Coliseum and this initiative going.”

Thus, after years of trying to build a new arena, Wang is finally seeing what could be the light at the end of the tunnel. If the bond referendum passes, construction would begin in June of 2012, with the expected completion of the project to be at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season and the grand opening to take place at the start of the 2015-16 season.

Building the new arena would also guarantee the Islanders stay on Long Island through 2045.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Wang said. “At the same time, let’s not go overboard because it’s not done, but we are taking the right steps. Ed Mangano, Kate Murray, (and I), we all understand that we have to do something and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Wang said he has a vision for the new arena without sighting any specific arenas around the league as examples, but he did disclose that the arena would not be the same vision he had for the Lighthouse Project, largely due to the advancements in technology over the last 10 years.

“Very much probably like one of the new arenas because now there is all this new technology and things have changed,” Wang said. “There are so many more possibilities.”

Wang explained, “For example, all of the signs you see, they probably won’t be fixed. They’ll probably be in displays of some kind. So it will truly be software driven and high tech. You’ll have Wi-Fi built in. That makes it a very different kind of experience and we want to be on the leading edge.”

Included in the project are plans to build a minor league ballpark on the Mitchell Field property. Also, while a formal agreement has not been reached, the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s proposed casino has found a new site at the Belmont Racetrack.
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