Media given progress tour of arena
The Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum has left its imprint on the collective unconscious of Long island residents. Scorned by architectural critics at its unveiling, it was embraced by a population accustomed to such fading venues as the Island Garden in West Hempstead or the Long Island Arena in Commack.
For many, the Coliseum’s memory parade was topped by the glory of the Islanders’ championship years. Others will recall the Nets twice being crowned champions of the old American Basketball Association. For music fans there were the countless memorable concerts by the biggest acts in the industry. For others, there is the nostalgia of attending the circus and ice skating events.
The venue continues to be central to the financial and aspirational hopes of the county leadership. The county chose developer Bruce Ratner and his Forest City Ratner Companies, builders of Barclays Arena in Brooklyn, to reinvigorate the 44-year-old structure and create an adjoining entertainment and retail complex.
On March 30, Ratner and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano led a media tour of the work in progress. This was in part to dispel rumors and criticism of the slow pace of activity.
“Early on in the project it is important to get the demolition and [asbestos] abatement done properly, so that the trades can follow,” said Forest City Ratner Companies Vice President Rebecca D’Eloia. “There will be a lot of work that will not be visible to the outside…working in the systems and up in the mechanical rooms is something that people can’t see, but it’s very important.”
Big promises and superlatives were on the lips of the principals.
Ratner said, “We promised you beautiful architecture and an incredible, iconic building. You will find that when this is completed it will be one of the great structures in this country in terms of the way it looks, inside and outside. It’s on budget and it’s on schedule.”
Ratner was asked about the decision to renovate, and not raze and build a new building.
“You can see the reason. It’s beautiful!” he responded with feeling. “The quality of the construction. Once you stripped it out, it was built very well. The bones are excellent. And it was so the right decision. Whether it be for environmental reasons, in terms of waste. Why tear down something, when you can see what it’s like inside? You can see it now that it’s cleaned up. I’m even surprised [at its condition].
To tear it down and build from scratch, said Ratner, “would have added another three years and probably twice the cost.”
Mangano said, “Today is an exciting and historic day in Nassau County. As a matter of fact, you’re all a part of history as we develop the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. I’m sure today will dispel any rumor that the construction is not on schedule.”
Mangano went on to tout the “historic private-public partnership. A $260 million private investment that will create a world-class facility here in Nassau County that we will be proud of for generations to come. For 42 years taxpayers subsidized this building, and that will no longer be the case. The taxpayers will no longer pay the utility bill, which last year was $2 million. In return, the taxpayers will receive $4 million (per year) or 8 percent of the gross revenues, whichever is higher. This is a great economic model.”
Mangano noted that the promise of the new building as anchor of a viable complex has led to an agreement with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which is making a $140 million investment to create what Mangano called “a world class, state-of-the-art cancer and research center. And that’s the beginning. [This] will be the center for Nassau County’s new economy in terms of biotechnology, bioelectronics and health care research and development.”
Peter Wang of Gensler, the interior design firm, had good things to say about the structure. “The Nassau Coliseum has great bones, and the approach to this project is extremely sustainable and celebrates green design and minimizes what is potentially a much larger carbon footprint in tearing this building down.” he said.
Wang talked about the experience of attendees approaching the new arena, the visual impacts and “wow factors” designed to impress.
“The real key feature of the entry portal will be a beer garden…we wanted to create a welcoming vibe,” Wang noted. “[The configuration] will allow for an indoor-outdoor venue to happen in the warmer months. The vibe is very casual, and will appeal to a broad range of guests. Rounding out the interior experience will be a robust, high quality food program celebrating the local flavors of Long Island. When all is said and done, Long Island will have a shiny new top of the class entertainment and sports venue.”
Ratner Gets Grilled
A reporter asked Ratner about the delayed scheduling, reportedly due to disagreements over using union labor.
“We all know we were supposed to start last August…we started in November. We were pushed behind three months. We’re right on schedule and [construction] will take the same number of months. So a year from now [next March] we’ll be done.”
“Any plans to tweak the plans so that a professional hockey team will play here?” he was asked.
Ratner: “We are planning for six games for the Islanders to be here, so by definition, it has to be available for professional hockey.”
“On a full-time basis,” a reporter interjected.
“No, no…we’re playing six games,” rejoined Ratner, combining annoyance, exasperation and bemusement.
Someone asked if the National Hockey League (NHL) has approved the six games.
“We’ve got new ownership of the Islanders,” Ratner responded. “After the playoffs, we’ll discuss the scheduling and timing with respect to the team playing its six games out here…We have to hold off until there’s new ownership.”
A published report indicated that the NHL had not received a formal request to have the games played at the Coliseum.
Ratner also mentioned the possibility of a minor league hockey franchise and boasted, “We have brought Long Island a professional D League team. That was not expected, not anticipated—and that is a major, major plus.”
According to a press release, “The NBA Development League and the Brooklyn Nets announced [last November] that the club has acquired the right to own and operate an NBA D-League team. The new team, the Long Island Nets, will begin play in the 2016-17 season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn before relocating to its permanent home at the new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the 2017-18 campaign.”
As for the finished product, “It will be one of the great concert venues,” promised Ratner. “Here in Nassau County, we have a lot of great music, it’s big [here], so this arena will become the center of music on the whole island.”
Ratner added, “We will have sporting events, boxing, family events—the circus. In Nassau County the circus will have the best attendance because it’s a family county. The circus has been here before, but now think of it in this gorgeous venue.”