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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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The Worst-Case Coliseum

None of the four developer proposals to “reinvent” the Nassau Veterans Coliseum is shockingly flawed or disturbing.

A couple of the artist’s conceptions seem like real improvements to the look of the arena building, but it’s not clear that making a cooler coliseum is what we should be looking for. Now that we no longer have to focus on what the public can do for the Islanders hockey team, we no longer need to lock ourselves into merely a newer version of what we already have.

Yet we haven’t unleashed the public’s creativity, and we still haven’t measured or reassessed what it is Nassau County needs, wants and expects out of that site and any remaining space around it. The county government seems resigned to give us Islanders Lite. No NHL hockey? We’ll have minor league hockey. Minor league something.

If you were opening almost any kind of business, you’d do a comprehensive marketing study. One of the proposals puts a movie complex next to the Coliseum. How would that pump more money into Uniondale or East Meadow or Carle Place? Don’t know.

When things get sticky, some Nassau Republicans tend to fall back into the centralized command and control mind set in which they were raised politically, so information from the county government itself has come at a slow drip. County Executive Ed Mangano, who is not shy about stapling his name onto anything and who issues media release almost every day, has posted nothing on his official website on the coliseum situation since calling for proposals and plans on March 13. Most information available comes from the prospective developers, and some have launched their own advertising campaigns.

So we’ve entered what had always been considered the worst possible scenario for what was once maybe the most valuable, highest-potential 1,200-acre canvas in the United States: A race by private developers for what’s left.

I guess it’s healthy on some level that we’ve apparently dropped all pretense of creating some imaginary “hub” near the center of the county that connects everything and gives us a logical, unified “downtown.” Notice that even the phrase, “Mitchel Field” has disappeared from the rhetoric. In just the last several years, enough of that “hub area” has filled in with new housing and malls that many of the options put on the table by County Executives Gulotta and Suozzi only 10 and 15 years ago are obsolete.

Whatever does happen with the Coliseum, we need to be healthily skeptical about any revenue projections. Two years ago, a developer insisted that the Islanders were worth $234 million to the economy of Nassau County. In 2012, 40 percent of their games were cancelled by the NHL lockout. Without hockey, people spent less money at the Coliseum, but there was little or no effect on county sales tax revenues, which went up in 2012. People spent their money on other things.

Studies have confirmed this phenomenon numerous times during sports strikes or after teams move. Sports venues do increase revenues for some larger cities, because of people who come in from the suburbs and go out afterwards. At the Nassau Coliseum, people from the suburbs generally rush to get out so they’re not caught up in the parking lot melee. They get to the parkway and they drive home for the same takeout they would have gotten anyway.

Last month, the Tampa Bay Times surveyed 10 economists about the effect of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team on the local economy. Nine out of the ten said that sports teams have minimal effect on most local economies. One said that sports “may make us happy. Just don’t claim it’s going to make us rich.”

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net