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Islanders, Nassau County announce lease agreement

by Brian Compton /
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- With just six weeks until Nassau County holds an Aug. 1 referendum on whether its residents will permit it to borrow $350 million for a new home for the New York Islanders, information on a new lease agreement between the team and the county was released Wednesday morning during a press conference at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Should residents vote "Yes" on Aug. 1 and the spending is then approved by both the Nassau County Legislature and NIFA (Nassau Interim Finance Authority), the Islanders have agreed to remain in Uniondale for another 30 years. Construction is expected to begin next spring.
A study performed by Camoin Associates -- a nationally-recognized firm in public and private sector economic development -- projects the financial agreement reached by the Islanders and Nassau County would generate $1.2 billion over the three decades. The firm also anticipates the new arena would create 1,515 construction jobs and 3,040 permanent jobs.
The New York Islanders have played at the Coliseum since it first opened its doors in 1972. Their current lease with Nassau County expires in 2015 and Isles owner Charles Wang will have no choice but to explore other options if this deal falls through.
"Today's another important step for Nassau County," Wang said Wednesday morning. "In order for us to grow, we need to invest in our future. The economy is not going to fix itself. This arena will be a catalyst for Nassau County to grow. If we do not have a new arena, the Islanders will be forced with a difficult decision.
"I am not blind to our struggling economy and how it has affected everyone in Nassau County. I am very cognizant of the substantial taxes paid by everyone. We have to make decisions on opportunities that can be a catalyst for improving our lives and especially our children's lives in Nassau County."
Under the agreement, Nassau County will receive 11.5 percent of all revenue -- not just Islanders' home games -- earned by the new arena. According to the deal, the minimum the county will earn is $14 million annually. With the new Barclays Center soon to open in Brooklyn and with Madison Square Garden currently undergoing massive renovations -- not to mention the Prudential Center in nearby Newark, N.J. -- the Coliseum would ultimately become a last-resort venue for concert performers and family shows, which would likely cost Nassau County millions of dollars in lost revenue.
"If the Islanders cannot stay, the economically and structurally obsolete arena will be shuttered and all the current economic activity will cease for Nassau County," Wang said. "It won't cease for the other arenas in the metropolitan New York area since Long Islanders will still go to the events and spend their hard-earned money -- except their spending will benefit areas other than Nassau County."
Already very much in the red, Nassau County is in need of a shot in the arm. Camoin Associates believes that when all is said and done, the Isles' new home would turn a $403 million profit for Nassau County residents.
"This historic agreement retains our New York Islanders while ensuring that residents earn dividends should they vote to invest in Nassau County’s future," Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano said. "From Islander tickets to concert tickets, pretzels to hot dogs, Nassau County will share in a portion of dollars spent at the new arena that residents will own.
"This is a great step forward for Nassau County. We will once again become a job generator. It's an investment. This is a true public/private partnership."
The hope is that the $350 million will be able to cover the costs for a new arena and the demolition of the Coliseum. Should costs exceed that amount, Wang has agreed to pay the remaining costs.
Now, it's up to the county residents to determine if a new arena is something they want to help fund -- at least temporarily. Should the vote turn out in the Islanders' favor, Wang has agreed to fund the referendum, which reportedly will cost roughly $2 million. Both the lease agreement and bonds required would then have to be approved by the county's Office Management and Budget, the Independent Office of Budget Review, the County Legislature, the County Comptroller and, finally, by NIFA.
"Our partnership with Nassau County is unprecedented," Wang said. "It was truly around the clock that we worked on this. Our home is Long Island. We want to be here. We have hope here. To do nothing now means we failed."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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