Monday, March 20, 2006

Suozzi's "New Suburbia" Gets A Forum

Suozzi Taps Wang-Reckson as $1.6 Billion Nassau Coliseum ‘New Suburbia’ Developer

Proposal Includes Renovated Coliseum, Extension of Islanders’ Lease, Minor League Baseball Stadium, Next-Generation Housing, and Transit Improvements

Mineola, NY- Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi announced that the proposal from the Lighthouse Development Group meets each of his seven core goals for the redevelopment of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum Site, and lays out a plan that is consistent with his vision for “New Suburbia.

Among the highlights of the Lighthouse Development Group’s $1.6 billion proposal are: a $200 million renovation of the Nassau Coliseum; a commitment from the Islanders NHL team to stay until 2025; a canal lined with retail shops and mixed-use residential-commercial development; the creation of a pedestrian-friendly ‘Nassau Centre;’ an investment in a transportation system; the construction of a minor-league baseball stadium and the development of next generation housing.

“After a thorough, competitive and open review process, my evaluation team has chosen the Lighthouse Group’s proposal,” Suozzi said. “Their plan stood up against top-notch competition, and emerged as the best of the best. It matches the vision I’ve been talking about for ‘New Suburbia.’ We can look forward to a new minor-league ballpark, a renovated Coliseum, new housing and office space that will create excitement at the geographic heart of Nassau County and create an engine for economic growth. And we accomplish this at no cost to the taxpayers, while significantly increasing the tax base.”

The project is expected to generate approximately $160 million in net new taxes through 2025.
In February, Suozzi’s evaluation committee – Deputy County Executive Helena Williams, Counsel to the County Executive William J. Cunningham, III and Executive Commissioner of Planning Patricia Bourne – winnowed four proposals down to two. The committee decided that the Lighthouse Development Group best addressed each of the County Executive’s seven core goals in transforming the site into an attractive, vibrant, lucrative and multiple-use center. The Lighthouse proposal met or exceeded Suozzi’s core goals for the Coliseum site, including:

Renovating or replacing the current Coliseum building into a world-class sports and entertainment facility, at no cost to the county.

About $200 million is earmarked for a dramatic overhaul of the Coliseum, including two new buildings to be incorporated into the Coliseum’s existing structure. The new buildings will house a basketball court, additional ice rinks, a fitness center, new locker rooms and other sports facilities. The Coliseum will also have expanded seating capacity with an additional 2,500 seats, including ice-level luxury boxes.

Minor League Baseball Stadium The group also proposes to build – at no cost to the county – a new minor-league baseball stadium at the nearby Mitchel Field Athletic Complex, and to bring a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Atlantic League to the county. The proposed stadium will be subject to its own request-for-proposal and approval process.
Construction of structured parking adjacent to the Coliseum to free up land – currently used as parking lots – for other development. Some $120 million will go toward the construction of Coliseum parking decks.

Extending the Islanders lease beyond its 2015 expiration, or making a deal with a comparable sports franchise.The Lighthouse Group will extend the Islanders’ commitment to play professional hockey in Nassau County until 2025.

Creating a mixed-use commercial-residential development. Townhouses, apartment buildings and office buildings will be constructed around a picturesque canal, to create a pedestrian-friendly suburban center.

Creating next-generation housing. The Lighthouse Group will commit 20% of any new residential units to next-generation housing.

Expanding the tax base for Nassau County, the Town of Hempstead and area school districts. New retail businesses and office space, as well as new residential units, will significantly expand the county’s tax base, kick starting new growth that Nassau needs to offset escalating property taxes.

Creating a public transportation system to connect the Coliseum site with the greater area known as the Nassau County Hub.The Lighthouse Group has committed to spend $55 million on transportation improvements in the ‘Nassau Centre’ area, including $25 million toward transforming the Centre into a pedestrian-oriented suburban center. The group will also fund a bus-trolley system serving the Coliseum and its immediate surroundings, as well as bus service to connect with the LIRR.

The county’s request-for-proposals sought plans for the 77-acre Coliseum site, but the Lighthouse Group’s proposal includes plans for surrounding properties as well, resulting in a 150-acre vision. The Lighthouse Group owns properties adjacent to the 77-acre site, including the Marriott Hotel, Reckson Plaza and the Omni Office Complex. The proposal includes 6 million square feet of hotel, retail, office, residential and Coliseum space.

Additionally, an extra $5 million is included in the proposal for community facilities, including proposed sponsorship for a Long Island Sports Hall of Fame.

The Lighthouse Group’s control of adjacent properties, plus its ability to guarantee that the Islanders would continue to occupy the newly renovated Coliseum were factors in their selection, Suozzi said. “This proposal makes the best possible use of the Coliseum site,” Suozzi said. “As the nation’s oldest suburb, the county really has no room left to grow. It is vital that we come up with new, creative ways to increase our tax base. This plan does that, while making the Coliseum site and the Nassau Centre an exciting place to live, work and play.”

County officials now will work to reach a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Lighthouse Group that would set out the major terms of the deal and establish a period for lease negotiations. Once a MOA is reached, it will be submitted for approval to the Nassau County Legislature. The plan also will need approval from the Town of Hempstead, which controls zoning issues at the site.The county is hopeful that construction could begin at the site within two years.
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Hmmm. Required approvals from the Nassau County Legislature AND the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Hempstead? Let the games begin!

With Peter Schmitt earlier saying that Suozzi's State of the County address left him "underwhelmed," you know that politics will take center stage in Mineola. Look for more trips to the penalty box at the County Seat than at the Coliseum.

And approval from the Zoning Board of the Town of Hempstead? The new-found amity between Tom Suozzi and Kate Murray aside, the clash between the Democrat controlled County and the redevelopment of the Hub.

Will the grandiose plans to re-energize the county's ailing and aged economy and infrastructure with mixed-use housing, retail and recreational space actually take flight at what was once Mitchel Field, or, like so many redevelopment plans of the past, simply fade from view, like Lindberg's Spirit of St. Louis as it ascended into the haze above the Hempstead Plains en route to Paris?

Will we tackle the problems of traffic, congestion, unbridled growth and overdevelopment along the Hempstead Turnpike corridor, or face the next generation of gridlock, increased pollution, density run amuck, and still further degradation of the water supply?

Let's not forget about NIMBY enthusiasts, who will be out in force declaring war against light rail, lighthouses, and any glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. [Funny. Few NIMBYers were to be heard from during the "visioning" stage.]

And what of the taxpayer? Will this Nassau Centre really mean more money for our schools and less taken from the pockets of homeowners, or will we simply be creating more long-term debt and cost overruns -- along with anticipated projects that never get further than the drawing board -- feeding the already stretched taxpayer to the proverbial lions at a spanking new Coliseum.

We want nothing more than to see Tom Suozzi's vision of a New Suburbia move forward, and for that groundbreaking ceremony to be held within two years. Still, we must proceed with a cautious optimism in assessing the Wang proposal and in fine tuning it's details. Similarly, we must reconcile the projected expenditures with our ability to pick up the hefty tab -- both in today's dollar's, and tomorrow's.

We want to be absolutely certain that we can, 10 or even 20 years down the road, look back at the creation of this Nassau Centre and say, "The rebith of America's first suburb began here," and not, "It seemed like a good idea at the time!"

What do you think about the Wang/Reckson plan to redevelop Nassau's "Hub?" Inquiring minds want to know. E-mail The Community Alliance at Guest blogs on this issue are welcome and invited!

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