Coliseum’s Next Chapter About To Unfold

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Nassau Coliseum
Nassau Coliseum

There’s a calendar posted at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum’s website and it lists nothing after Tuesday, Aug. 4, when a Billy Joel concert is closing out the current Coliseum.

To learn more about the Coliseum’s future, the Town of Hempstead’s website is a good place to start. Their town board approved in May the Nassau Events Center’s (NEC) Master Plan for the Coliseum, and its surrounding acreage, ending a debate which began long ago about the county-owned parcel’s future. A May 26 news release summarizing the town board’s decision links to a voluminous document, billed as the NEC’s Expanded Environmental Assessment Form (EAF). The 180-plus page EAF offers an in-depth analysis of the parcel’s water resources, storm water management, parking and traffic patterns, as well as broader details about the NEC.

“The Coliseum renovation will take place without any taxpayer financing, and the approved plan provides for balanced and sustainable development,” Supervisor Kate Murray stated at the time.

Situated within the 91-acre Mitchel Field Mixed (MFM) Use District, the NEC’s developer, Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), has said the NEC project will begin initially with interior and exterior improvements to the Coliseum, reducing the arena’s capacity to 13,000 from 17,000-plus seats. The MFM Use District also allows for the development of retail space (170,000-square feet), recreational facilities (120,000-square feet), a 1,500-seat movie theatre (60,000-square feet) and restaurants (38,000-square feet) near the Coliseum.

The biggest changes to the Uniondale site’s landscape will occur between the eastern side of the Coliseum and the western side of the Long Island Marriott, which is where the theatre, the restaurants and much of the retail space can be built. An extensively landscaped, large, public open space is slated for the short walk between the Coliseum and the Marriott.

“The arrangement of the retail buildings around the Coliseum would concentrate height to the north and south, and frame the entrance to the Coliseum, creating a welcome plaza and gathering place,” the NEC’s Expanded EAF states. “The concentration of uses (restaurants, retail and recreation/entertainment) would serve to extend the stay of visitors to the site, thereby lessening the intensity of incoming and outgoing traffic immediately before and after arena events.”

FCRC, the developer of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the New York Islanders’ new home, estimates the NEC’s creation will lead to 960 direct on-site jobs during construction and an additional 996 once the project is operational in 2017, according to the Expanded EAF.

Lighthouse Project Rendering
Lighthouse Project Rendering

The Lighthouse at Long Island proposal, championed by Islanders owner Charles Wang years before FCRC came onto the scene, makes cameo appearances throughout the NEC’s Expanded EAF. For the record, the Hempstead town board never voted either for or against the Lighthouse plan. Indeed, if Supervisor Murray is challenged on this matter during her campaign this year for Nassau County district attorney, she can correctly say the Lighthouse’s developers were unwilling to separate the Coliseum’s future from the Lighthouse at Long Island concept in 2007 and then effectively abandoned their Coliseum-area redevelopment plan in 2010 by no longer responding to governmental questions posed as part of the state-mandated environmental review of the Lighthouse project.

Barry_weekly_040315BThe Islanders are moving to Brooklyn and Barclays Center’s website is understandably touting this turn of events, inviting fans to join them on July 6 and 7 for an Islanders select-a-seat promotion. When the dust settles years from now, however, there may be reason to travel again to the Coliseum and the commercial enterprises scheduled to be built alongside it.

Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at mfbarry@optonline.net.

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