Monday, July 25, 2011

As Hempstead Goes, So Goes The County

Town GOP Key To August 1 Referendum

Whether the Referendum to build a new home for the Islanders and a minor league ballpark at the Hub floats or sinks next Monday doesn't depend as much upon the YES votes of Islanders fans as it does the appearance of the GOP faithful of Hempstead Town at the polls.

Fact: In Hempstead Town, regardless of registration numbers, Republicans turn out to vote. This is particularly so for non-Election Day polling, where the turnout is traditionally low.

Face it. For better or worse, little if anything happens in America's largest township -- the Town of Hempstead -- without the blessing and consent of the local GOP.

Be it planning (what little there is of it), zoning (whatever the rhyme or convoluted reason), or filling elective office (from Sanitary Commissioners to Town Supervisor), the GOP is calling the shots. When it comes to shaping the vote, nobody but nobody does it better.

Call an election for special district commissioners, for instance. Be it the dead of winter or the Dog Days of summer, with nary a registered voter aware that an election is even in the offing, and GOP voters show up at the local polling places to cast votes for the party's designated (wink, wink) victor.

No surprise in a town where almost everyone has a relative who is somehow connected or beholden to the local GOP, if not actually on payroll. The patronage web is huge, and while the reward for the individual voter may be miniscule -- or nonexistent -- one dare not take the chance.

The party says "jump!" The party faithful asks, "How high?"

Suffice it to say that, in Hempstead Town, one party rule is still the norm, and upsetting the Republican apple cart the most rare of exceptions.

So, what does this have to do with the Coliseum/Hub plan?


Lest we forget, the memory of LIers being shorter than the lifespan of the cicata, it was the Town of Hempstead GOP that dimmed the lights on the Lighthouse project, reducing same, in perfunctory fashion, first to Lighthouse Lite, and then, unceremoniously, snuffing out the candle entirely under guise of zoning change.

Sure, Town officials cloaked themselves under the "We Are All Islanders" banner, but the road signs, from constant delay and deferral to overly burdensome demands upon the developers, all pointed to a dead end.

Then came the Mangano Plan, di minimus in comparison to even Lighthouse lite, sparce in detail, and to be financed not by private enterprise but rather, by you and I as taxpayers.

The reception at Hempstead Town Hall? Lukewarm, at best. No hoisting of County Exec Ed Mangano -- a fellow Republican -- upon the broad shoulders of Town Supervisor Kate Murray. A tacit nod of approval, if that, more akin to sitting on the fence, awaiting the outcome of the August 1 Referendum, than it is to getting aboard the Coliseum Express, selling the plan, lock, stock, and ballpark.

Not necessarily a bad move on the part of Town officials and the local GOP, given the ambivalence of residents ("Sure we need a new Coliseum, but why the heck should Nassau County taxpayers foot the bill?"), and the hesitation to add even a dollar to the property tax in a year when most Town officials must seek re-election. Wait and see seems to be the order of the day, and, quite possibly, the death knell for Ed Mangano's plan.

A thumbs down to the Referendum puts the future of the Hub back into the Town's court, after all. A town which is loathe to cede control on any matter, whether trivial, or, here, of major significance.

Not that the Town of Hempstead didn't have a fair shot at redeveloping the Hub many times over during the past decade. Maybe they just didn't want to. The timing wasn't right. The plan wasn't entirely theirs. The piper had yet to be paid to play.

In a Town where mailings and TV spots urging residents to do even the mundane (along the lines of checking to make sure the light goes off in the fridge once the door is closed) are commonplace, the deafening silence from Hempstead Town Hall on next Monday's vote gives one pause to consider whether there will come an 11th hour call to muster the troops, summon them to the polls, urging them to vote YES.

Without that bugle call from Town Hall, not even the YES votes of every stalwart Islander fan is likely to alter the outcome. Turnout will be low. NO voters always managing to find their way to the polls, come hell or high water. The urge to Vote YES not quite as strong as the inclination to stay home.

With defeat, the Town can say, "We told you so," leaving a hapless Ed Mangano with yet another black mark in the loss column, and the Town again holding all the chips. And should the Referendum pass? Well, then Kate Murray and Kompany can hold their heads high and proclaim, "We were with you all the time!"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Voices From The Ledge

A "Thumbs Up" And A "Thumbs Down" On Nassau Hub Plan

The vote is scheduled for Monday, August 1.

The pols have spoken. The Unions have chimed in. The Isles have broken the ice. Even we at The Community Alliance have put in our two cents (or was that $58, $13.65, or a tax figure to be added to the bottom line later?). Soon it will be your turn to give the Coliseum Referendum a YEA or a NAY.

Now, two more voices can be heard: Eric Alexander, Executive Director of Vision Long Island, and Jay Jacobs, Chair of both the NYS Democratic Committee and Nassau County Democratic Committee.

Reprinted from the Editorial pages of the LI Herald, the debate sallies forth:

Pro and con on Nassau Coliseum redevelopment

Vote ‘yes’

After years of meetings planning the future of the Nassau Hub area, it is time to support the bond act that will refinance Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Public financing of the arena would allow the Islanders to stay on Long Island, preserve the tax base and provide the opportunity for mixed-use development and revitalization in the surrounding area.

A responsibly financed Coliseum redevelopment would enhance the quality of life in Nassau County by providing the state-of-the-art sports and entertainment complex the county deserves. It would be a strong first step toward a new town center at the Hub, one that would expand the tax base, provide jobs and create tangible economic development benefits well into the future.

For the many residents, civic associations, small businesses, chambers of commerce and other local organizations that supported the Lighthouse project and other past proposals for redevelopment, supporting the bond is a logical choice. There are many reasons why the Lighthouse project did not move forward, despite wide and deep public support. Chief among them was the Town of Hempstead’s fear of the project’s impact, as well as the failure to secure necessary state and federal infrastructure funding by former county officials.

The kind of “smart growth” proposal offered by the Lighthouse project is critical to Long Island’s future. The current redevelopment proposal offers similar promise while using different methods. Redevelopment of the Coliseum would serve as a companion to the town’s recently approved mixed-use code in the area around the arena, which includes housing, office and retail with new development guidelines.

The county is expected to prepare a request for proposals for development around the Coliseum. Vision Long Island encourages this development to include an integrated mix of uses, various housing options, including a work force component, accessibility to public transportation, walkable streets and a strong, safe link to Hofstra University, Nassau Community College, Museum Row and offices in the area. Additionally, we hope to see ample state and federal dollars for infrastructure improvements around the new development, which was absent from previous proposals.

Long Islanders need jobs. One of the region’s most pressing challenges is to keep workers, including young workers, from leaving the area. Revitalizing the Nassau Coliseum would not only create a regional high-quality entertainment hub that would cater to a wide demographic range, from the very young to seniors, it would also create expanded employment opportunities for residents of a densely populated area.

According to Nassau County’s economic impact statement, the project would provide a positive cash flow of $2.2 million annually, in excess of the debt service of $26 million. The new Coliseum would attract about 1.37 million visitors each year, versus the no-build alternative of 100,500 visitors — or far fewer if the Islanders ultimately move.

The $400 million bond proposition would provide key infrastructure and facility financing in and around the Hub area. This bond could spur critical economic growth for Nassau County. After careful analysis and discussion with business and government leaders, we believe this plan to be responsible and appropriate.

We are happy that the public will be able to weigh in on this project via a referendum on Aug. 1. Vote “yes” in that referendum.

Eric Alexander is executive director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit smart-growth planning organization that has long supported redevelopment in the Nassau Hub.

Vote ‘no’

Two weeks ago I was featured in a Newsday story about County Executive Ed Mangano’s plan to revamp Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with $400 million in borrowed money. The paper described me as “one of the loudest opponents of the proposal,” and I described the Coliseum bond as “something that is not going to pass.”

After the story ran, the Nassau Democratic Committee received a dozen emails from people who took my words to mean that Democrats don’t want the New York Islanders to stay in Nassau County.

There’s a difference between supporting the Islanders and supporting bad fiscal policy. I like the Islanders. I want them to stay on Long Island. But it doesn’t make sense to rebuild their arena on the taxpayer’s dime.

While it’s true that a new-and-improved Coliseum would be a nicer place to see sporting events and concerts, we need to ask ourselves: Is a nicer Coliseum worth a 4 percent increase in our county’s sky-high property taxes? I don’t think the people of Nassau County will vote to increase their own taxes. We’re smarter than that.

The people who stand to benefit most from a new Coliseum are private businessmen and women, with Islanders owner Charles Wang chief among them. With all due respect to Mr. Wang, it’s clear that he recognizes how much he has to gain from a new arena. Five years ago he was willing to partner with Reckson Associates to renovate the aging Coliseum and develop the surrounding land — without taxpayer money.

The Wang-Reckson plan fizzled owing to inside baseball in the Town of Hempstead. I won’t go into the details because that’s water under the bridge, but I want to remind county taxpayers that we came close to getting a new Coliseum financed entirely by private enterprise. That’s the solution we need to pursue today, because the county can’t afford to take on $400 million in new debt to pay for this project.

If voters approve this massive bond on Aug. 1, the county will have to pay about $26 million in debt service every year for the next 30 years. In return, the county will receive about $14 million in profits from the new Coliseum. That would leave taxpayers on the hook for $12 million to cover the rest of the debt service — every year for the next 30 years.

Unless my calculator is broken, Mangano must be stringing us along when he says his Coliseum plan wouldn’t cost taxpayers a thing. It’s hard enough to raise a family on Long Island. Our finances are already stretched to the limit by the cost of owning a home, sending our children to school and paying the taxes that accompany all of these things. We can’t afford to increase our property-tax bills by paying for a project that Mr. Wang could easily finance himself.

Nassau County is proud to be the home of the Islanders. We’d love to have a new arena, but we simply don’t have the money — not in the county’s coffers, not in our overstretched budget and certainly not in taxpayers’ pockets.

Jay Jacobs is chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee and the New York State Democratic Committee.
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Sensing quite a bit of ambivalence on the issue of the Hub/Coliseum redevelopment plan among County residents (notwithstanding the lopsided numbers in our own unscientific survey), and having expressed, in this blog, our own uncertainties, we are disposed nevertheless to err -- if, in fact, it is to err -- on the side of the visionaries (limited though their sights may be in this scaled-back, taxpayer-financed, decades-delayed redevelopment project).

While Mr. Jacobs makes a number of valid points -- from debt we can't afford to a town's refusal to move a privately funded, comprehensive plan, in the form of the Lighthouse Project, forward -- the gist, we fear,  is more "us vs. them" political grandstanding and opportunism than it is true concern over taxpayers' wallets and Nassau County's future.

Whether the Hub/Coliseum plan, if passed by the voters on August 1, and thereafter approved by the County Legislature and the Nassau Interim Finance Board (NIFA), ushers in an era of "Smart Growth", as Mr. Alexander so justifiably supports, or stands as iconic monument to far-fetched folly, remains to be seen.

One thing, though, is certain. Doing nothing bears the greatest cost of all to the citizens of America's first suburb. We take a chance that we are, indeed, at least beginning to move forward in the right direction, or, we stand pat, with little left for us to do but cue the tumbleweeds!

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Destination, Nassau County

A New Beginning, Or The Beginning Of The End

August 1 will either usher in a new era of engagement for America's first suburb, or the final bugle call for the continued exodus from Long Island.

That's when the Referendum for County Exec Ed Mangano's Nassau Hub/Coliseum Plan goes before John and Jane Public for a thumbs up or thumbs down.

The hubbub on the hub is plentiful, from the local papers to the blogs (there's a Facebook page, of course), and we post below a mere sampling (feel free to Google more) for your reading pleasure.



LI Herald

Let There Be Lighthouse (or whatever the heck may follow in its wake)

The New York Islanders (with Kevin James, no less)


You can read the official report, partake in the polls, and wade knee deep in the written word, most of which, thankfully, remains online, saving countless forests. Push comes to shove -- or wink comes to nod -- not much will matter but the actual vote on Monday, August 1. [Yes, aside from the fact that the vote will be held other than on Election Day, it will be put before voters on a Monday, rather than a Tuesday. Only on Long Island!]

So, where exactly do we, at The Community Alliance, stand on the present plan, which, in essence, gives Nassau a new Coliseum (the old one to be returned to Rome) and a minor league ballpark?

Well, the heartstrings are certainly pulled toward a YES vote.

As Islanders fans, coming off some pretty lousy seasons of what only the likes of a B. D. Galoff may call "play", we certainly take note of the fact that the Coliseum, by far the oldest arena in the NHL, has become little more than a brownfield set within a larger brownfield, whose backdrop is just a sinkhole shy of a, um, er brownfield. An asphalt wasteland attracting little more than tumbleweeds, smack dab in the center of Nassau County.

We need a new Coliseum. [And can we call it something other than the Coliseum?] We could use a few new Islanders, too, but that's a story best left for our Isles/NHL blogging friends.

A minor league ballpark would also be a welcome addition, obviating the need to venture out to Islip to take in a Ducks game, or battle the traffic on the Belt to see the Cyclones in Brooklyn.

And let's face it. Development -- or in this instance, redevelopment, albeit partial in nature and muddled in detail (or the lack thereof) -- tends to spur growth, re-energize the economy, and, yes, attract both visitors and residents.

On the downside (where the brain begins to kick in and say, "Whoa! Wait a minute."), there's the questionable economic gains (long term), and the obvious short term loss (increased taxes to pay for borrowed money).

Sure, there will be job creation -- mostly surrounding the construction project -- but in the long run, how many permanent jobs will be created and sustained?

Then there's the projected revenues. Enough to cover costs and to give the County something extra in its coffers at day's end? So they say. Then again, in a County that boasts a surplus one minute, then lays off hundreds the next, we wouldn't exactly start counting on money in the bank -- or, for that matter, in our pockets.

Speaking of money -- our money -- the projected tax increase for the average Nassau County homeowner (are you average, or a cut above?) is said to be $58 per year. A drop in the tax bucket, one might say. Then again, this is just a projection. And we all know that taxes only go up, not down or away. And will there really be a return on our investment?

Consider, too, that when the Lighthouse Project was on the table (remember the Lighthouse, and Lighthouse Lite, before we were left in the dark?), private developers were set to pick up the tab (to the tune of $3.75 billion), fully funding a comprehensive (arena, ballpark, hotel, residential, retail, you name it) revitalization plan. Come now the Mangano Plan and, voila, already overburdened taxpayers are asked to cough up some $400+ million to finance the project. Your tax cap "savings" (which, as followers of this blog already know are nonexistent, a "cap" not being a "drop") gone in one fell swoop. Well, actually, a swoop that picks tax dollars out of our wallets for some 30 years. [Geez. We're still paying off those Environmental Bond issues, aren't we?]

Do you feel the tug of a NO vote, or its equivalent, the "stay at home and don't bother to" vote? Um. The empty pockets and equally vacuous promises say so. The hope, the dream, no, the reality of a truly viable, sustainable Long Island, say otherwise.

Progress has a cost. As history shows, the act of doing nothing (something we've become all too accustomed to here on Long Island) has a much greater cost.

If the surveys are correct (and is the LI Index ever wrong?), they're leaving -- or planning to leave -- Long Island in droves. The young. The old. Whatever may be left of the middle class. The tired, yearning to be free of outrageous taxes, unaffordable housing, unbearable congestion (another issue not adequately addressed under the Hub plan) and an ever encroaching malaise that accompanies the sinking feeling that our island's -- and, perhaps, suburbia's -- best days are behind her.

Hold that thought. Then, embrace the vision. [I said, "embrace the vision." Not get forever stalled in a visioning process that circles the wagons but leads us nowhere!]

Nassau County, with all of its wounds -- economic, social, political -- many of which were, of course, self-inflicted, is due (long overdue) for what can only be categorized as an extreme makeover. It's infrastructure is aged out and crumbling. The spirits of the populace, sagging. There is little to look forward to on a horizon that has been built out upon a foundation of miserable planning and lousy zoning.

The grand plan -- and, perhaps, best plan -- would have been to scrap it all and start again. Bulldoze, from the Turnpike in Elmont to the Grand Avenue in Baldwin. Begin anew.

Of course, here on Long Island, grand schemes and big thinking -- like the Lighthouse Project itself -- tend to fall by the wayside, prey to the hobgoblin of little minds and provincial mindsets.

Piecemeal "improvements," though little more than facades themselves, seem to be all that we can tolerate.

The Mangano Plan for the Hub/Coliseum, while far from the renaissance called for, gives Nassau, and, yes, all of Long Island, the chance -- at least in theory -- to rebound, to restart, to reinvigorate the suburban landscape.

True, the plan, as presently constituted, is no panacea. Small potatoes in a land that once called vast potato farms home. And yet, the "build it and they will come" concept has more than a little merit to it.

Yes, we could leave the Coliseum as is, perhaps setting up a farmer's market in the parking lot on alternate Tuesdays. [Smart Growth dumbed down to the lowest level. If you can't rebuild Main Street, hawk cauliflower!]

Fact is, despite the drawbacks -- and there are many we have yet to touch upon here -- doing nothing is simply not an option. Take another route? Well, just how long can we wait here, on the side of the pot-marked road, for Godot?

Do something, and Long Island has a shot at redemption, and so much more. Sit tight in the great void of NYMBYism, and we forever foreclose the opportunity to emerge from the doldrums into which Nassau has descended.

The decision on August first is not easy, by any means or measure. It is, however, a necessary one that every County resident must make.

To move forward, although with trepidation, toward a future where Nassau County is once again a destination. Or, to stand in place, mired in stagnant waters (the precursor of regression, decay, and, ultimately, the suburban demise), with Nassau being the place to flee rather than to flock.

That decision, of course, is yours. We, at The Community Alliance, encourage all Nassau residents to VOTE ON AUGUST 1. And, indeed, we implore you to VOTE YES!
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