A Vision of Nassau’s ‘Downtown’

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Nassau Hub at Coliseum beginning to take shape

This conceptual rendering shows one possible vision of the area surrounding the Nassau Coliseum. (Courtesy of BSE/RXR)

The Nassau Hub surrounding the Nassau Coliseum just might have a future.
“Stars are aligned,” said Laura Curran,the county’s chief excutive, about transforming the acreage of asphalt parking into what its backers call “Nassau’s Downtown.”

On Nov. 27, the Nassau County Legislature hosted a presentation by BSE Global, site leaseholder, and its development partner, RXR Realty. Several hundred people filled the legislative chambers to hear about the $1.5-billion mixed-use development. The respective CEOs—Brett Yormark and Scott Rechler—presented their plan, answered questions and listened to concerns.

The next step in the process is a positive vote on a series of modifications to the lease that Curran has urged the legislators to pass.

Legislators told the executives they would need a solid project labor agreement in place before they would give the go-ahead, and also pressed for more specifics on community benefits—the variety of amenities and other concrete measures from developers to gain a favorable vote from elected officials.

Scott Rechler, CEP pf RXR Realty, has extensive experience with large developments. The RXR Properties surrounding the Hub will make up for parking spots lost when the Hub’s two parking garages are being erected. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

Anchor Tenant

Earlier that day, the developers had announced that they had signed an agreement with the anchor tenant for the proposed site, Northwell Health, the largest private employer in New York State.

The plans envisioned a “Northwell Innovation Center” consisting of up to 225,000 square feet at the corner of Hempstead Turnpike and Earle Ovington Boulevard, across from the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

According to a press release, “Northwell is looking at leveraging opportunities coming out of the rapidly expanding life sciences sector, where employment has grown at a rate 2½ times faster than the rest of the economy over the past two decades.”

‘New Suburbia’

As part of its lease, BSE operates NYCB Live, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. After renovating the arena, BSE wanted to create a surrounding mix of housing, retail, office and entertainment spaces that would draw strength from and in turn sustain the Coliseum.

“This announcement aligns with our strategy to create a new suburbia surrounding [the] Coliseum that promotes synergy between the arena and the development,” Yormark said in a statement.

The highlights of the initial BSE/RXR plan include:

• 500 housing units
• 600,000 square feet of office and biotech research space
• 200,000 square feet of “experiential retail”
• Parking to meet the program demand, including approximately 3,400 spaces in parking structures to be funded by $85 million
• Bus rapid transit to nearby LIRR stations
• Pathways and pedestrian bridges connecting to neighboring educational, cultural, recreational, and commercial centers.

One of the key factors that would make the project viable, according to Rechler, was that the arena had already been renovated. The Lighthouse project with which he was involved last decade called for a high housing density in part to help finance the renovation.

Another barrier that has fallen is the zoning, and Rechler praised the Town of Hempstead “for having the foresight to go through a process and has actually put forth a low-density zoning plan that’s outstanding.”

Housing Problem

Rechler quoted two stats: 41 percent of millennials are living with a resident and 71 percent plan to leave Long Island for a less expensive region in the next five years.
He argued that talent is the most important resource and bringing and keeping young talent on Long Island is crucial for its economic future—and affordable housing is key.

In response to several legislators’ questions about payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and other tax abatements, Rechler admitted that, “to build affordable multifamily housing there needs to be relief from taxes….you need some level of tax subsidy to put up housing.”
Legislator C. William Gaylor III objected that many residents—after the current re-assessment—will be hit by higher taxes while the developers were looking for breaks.
Rechler admitted there were trade-offs, but pointed out that there were no taxes being generated on the property right now, as opposed to “meaningful taxes” at buildout.

Frustrating History

Ever since President Lyndon Johnson came to Mitchel Field in 1964 to break ground on the John F. Kennedy Center, it has been the dream of a succession of county leaders to make something special of the former airfield.

In 1972, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum opened, the only original element to be realized from Johnson’s groundbreaking.

Eventually, the fate of the deteriorating arena spurred more than a dozen years’ worth of activity at the site.

Late last decade, then Islanders owner Charles Wang and partner Scott Rechler of Uniondale-based RXR Realty submitted the $3.8-billion mixed-use Lighthouse project, which included a new arena.

The Town of Hempstead rejected the ambitious proposal—which called for higher housing density than what the town allowed—and it never progressed beyond the planning stages.
Follow-up proposals, including a casino plan with the Shinnecocks that would not have needed town approval–were aborted.

Wang made good on his threat to move the storied hockey franchise when the lease with the Coliseum expired in 2015, and found a home with developer Bruce Ratner and his Barclays Arena in Brooklyn.

Ratner and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment (now BSE Global) had already been invited by then county head Ed Mangano to weigh in on development plans. BSE eventually garnered a 49-year lease with the county on the 60-plus acres and immediately moved to renovate the Coliseum, a $180 million project financed with private funds.
The arena reopened with a Billy Joel concert in April 2017.

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