Nearly 45 years after it first opened its doors as Long Island’s hub for entertainment and sports, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is set for a rebirth this April following a $130 million renovation. Dubbed the New Coliseum, the hometown feel of old remains, along with plenty of upgraded amenities.
Those massive improvements will be on display during the coliseum’s first week back, as it roars onto the scene with its fittingly first event, a sold out Billy Joel concert on April 5, followed by acts including Stevie Nicks, Idina Menzel and Marc Anthony.
“This first week is the stepping stone of what we’re ultimately trying to do, and that’s bring a diversity of acts to Long Island,” said Nick Vaerewyck, senior director of programming with the coliseum’s management company Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, who cited other acts including WWE Monday Night Raw, Harlem Globetrotters, Barbra Streisand and Metallica. “We want to encompass everything with big names and also a touch of local Long Island flair.”
Attendees can expect an all-new design to the legendary 416,000-square foot arena. Upgraded and modernized finishes include a unique skin that evokes iconic Long Island imagery like beach dunes and boardwalks; redesigned concession stands, double the number of toilets, charging stations, party suites and additional seating for the disabled; a new pedestrian walkway; energy-efficient features; and all new flooring and a widened concourse.
“We feel like everyone is going to be shocked when they see it. It’s still the coliseum, but it is not what it used to be,” he said.
Vaerewyck also said the coliseum’s 77 acres provides plenty of flexibility for programming possibilities.
“It gives us many opportunities for different events—from as intimate as 4,500 seats in the theater, to large-scale 20-30,000-seat festivals in the parking lot,” he said. “We’ll look to do other things like trade shows and food festivals. There are opportunities here that you don’t see in a lot of other places.”
Another unique element that will lure Long Islanders to the coliseum is sure to be the food. The new coliseum partners with Levy Restaurants for Long Island Taste—a culinary program that features familiar local flavors with everything from recently launched operations to tradition-rich island eateries.
According to Marco A. Fabozzi, vice president of hospitality strategy, the coliseum’s operators want to present a dining scene synonymous with Long Island.
“We wanted to partner with local restaurant purveyors and different businesses on Long Island,” said Fabozzi. “Food and beverage is a big part of Long Island. We have a diverse group of individuals and food cuisines [on Long Island]. There’s a seasonality and freshness to the island’s food—a flair to it.”
In order to find that flair, the management team reached out to the Long Island food community and listened to what it craves. It accepted applications from potential vendors and ended up with more than 100 entries. After that, the coliseum crew fanned out to eateries incognito and logged onto Yelp to scan customer reviews.
“We dwindled that down to what we felt would best fit in an arena setting, taking into account preparation speed and quality,” said Fabozzi. “What we have showcases the food items people are accustomed to on Long Island.”
Currently, the coliseum’s Long Island Taste program features eight local eateries, with more expected to officially join before opening day. The restaurants currently participating include Rockville Centre Mexican mainstay Cabo, Deer Park’s GreeKrave, Massapequa Park barbecue joint Smokin’ Al’s, Umberto’s of New Hyde Park, Port Washington-based Prime Food Distributor, Nathan’s Famous and Roast Sandwich House, which has locations in Melville and Hicksville.
“Roast was one of the locations we heard a lot about. We went there and fell in love with the product,” he said. “They are the perfect example of a small place that’s not mainstream, that we are really excited to see on this platform.”
As part of the renovation, the event-level lobby will be transformed into a beer garden for fans, featuring the aforementioned Long Island Taste participants, including a traditional wood-burning pizza oven. As for beverages, the coliseum will boast many local beers and spirits, though specifics have not yet been released.
Fabozzi said the biggest challenge in building a menu of vendors for the new coliseum was meeting the high standards in today’s culinarily focused food world.
“Everyone thinks they are a master chef, so it’s tough to appease everyone,” he said. “We partnered with people who are really proud of their product and that is going to show in the quality.”