New Nassau Coliseum To Come If Taxpayers Say 'Yes'

PoliticsReferendaNassau ColiseumCharles WangWPIXLong Island

After more than four years of controversial proposals, the largest venue on Long Island may be on track to be replaced by a new arena, but the latest proposal may garner controversy of its own over its funding.

A new Nassau Coliseum project was unveiled Tuesday by Nassau County executive Ed Mangano and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang. The project would feature the new, larger coliseum and a minor league baseball park, for a pricetag of $400 million.

Voters would have to approve a bond issued by the county to finance the project. Those same voters would be paying part of the 30-year debt service on that bond, if they approved it. A referendum on the issue is currently scheduled for August 1st, if the county legislature approves the referendum request from the county executive. The referendum and legislature vote are among a list of hurdles that would have to be crossed in order for the new coliseum proposal to become a reality.

If it is approved, the new venue would be finished in time for the 2014 - 2015 hockey season. More than 3,300 construction jobs would be created in order to complete the project.

It replaces a much bigger one, killed by local lawmakers last year. The Lighthouse was a nearly $3.8 billion dollar plan to build a 77-acre complex of homes, hotels and businesses around a new arena. The Lighthouse would have been paid for by Islanders' owner Charles Wang.

By contrast, the new proposal for the site is smaller and cheaper, but would have to be paid in part by taxpayers. The debt service payment would be split between Nassau County and Wang, but the percentage of payment each would be responsible for has not been disclosed.

What has been disclosed is the fate of a casino that had also been considered for the county land surrounding the coliseum. That casino, which would have been controlled by Long Island's Shinnecock Indian tribe, would instead be located at Belmont Raceway Park in Elmont, on the Nassau - Queens border.

None of the proposals made for the coliseum site can go forward without crossing a series of hurdles that include the referendum vote. If that vote is approved by a simple majority of the 19-member county legislature, the referendum will take place August 1st. If voters give the nod to a new coliseum, their voting result goes to the county legislature, where 13 of its members have to vote in favor of the referendum result.

After that, there are at least two more milestones to pass in order for the new coliseum proposal to become reality. Currently, Nassau County's troubled finances are being overseen by an entity set up by the state legislature, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. The authority would have to approve the bond as well as any expenditures over $50,000 for contractors involved in the project.

So at a time when budgets are getting cut and national polls show that voters are uncomfortable with government debt, how do some residents feel about the new coliseum proposal? A sampling of responses to PIX11 via twitter show an aversion to it.

Tamara Walker says, "Seriously, Nassau County is broke. Does building a coliseum seem smart?"

David Lewis cannot find any support at all. "I'm not even a hockey fan," he writes. "Sorry, can't get behind this!"

Sarah Waterbury is nostalgic for the current venue, built in 1972. "I honestly wouldn't take out a $400 million loan. I love that coliseum and I would hate to see it go."

And Heather Saslovsky commented via Facebook. "I'd take out a $400M loan to restore real meaningful services to the people of NY! Let us buy bonds for that and stop funding the billionaires who own professional sporting teams!!!"

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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PoliticsReferendaNassau ColiseumCharles WangWPIXLong Island
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