Written by Joe Rizza Friday, 14 August 2009 00:00
In the movie Field of Dreams, based on the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, a voice whispered to farmer Ray Kinsella, “If you build it, he will come.” “It” referred to a baseball field. In Nassau County, the “it” people are talking about these days is the Lighthouse Project, a proposed $3.7 billion project that will renovate the section of Nassau County where the Nassau Coliseum is located. If it is built, people will not have to come; they are already there.
The Lighthouse Project has mounted vast support from elected officials and members of the public who see the project as a form of economic stimulus for Nassau County.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, the Town of Hempstead held a hearing on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) for the project, which includes renovated 150 acres around the Nassau Coliseum to include a renovated Nassau Coliseum arena, a five-star hotel, a sports complex, convention, conference and exhibition facilities, office space, retail space and residential units.
As Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray explained, the purpose of the hearing was to address the environmental impacts of the project, not to judge the merits of the project. Yet, that didn’t stop the many people who attended the hearing at the John Crawford Adams Playhouse on the campus of Hofstra University from voicing their support for the project, a joint venture between New York Islanders owner Charles Wang and Scott Rechler, CEO and chairman of real estate developer RXR.
Wang began the hearing by showing a video of the proposed project. Wang received a big ovation from the audience at the hearing as he explained that the Lighthouse Project would become a destination for Long Islanders while also providing economic benefits for Nassau County including jobs and tax revenue.
One of the Lighthouse Project’s biggest supporters is Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, who explained that the county is facing serious challenges stemming from problems such as high property taxes, pockets of poverty, traffic and the reality that young people are moving out of Long Island. “We have to get this project done for the future of Long Island,” he said.
Suozzi reiterated points he has made on many occasions that Nassau County is no longer growing and young people are leaving because they cannot afford to live in Nassau County. The Lighthouse Project, to many of its supporters, represents an opportunity for the county to get additional tax revenues, housing and jobs in the project.
Another supporter of the project who spoke at the hearing was Bishop William Murphy for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, who said the project offers the opportunity to break down barriers, form new relationships and give people hope and reason to invest.
Also appearing at the environmental hearing was National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Garry Bettman, who stated there probably isn’t a worse facility for a professional sports team in North America than the current Nassau Coliseum. “This facility must be replaced,” the commissioner said. “I have no doubt that the Islanders cannot and will not stay in this facility one second longer than they are legally bound to.”
The Islanders’ lease for the Nassau Coliseum with Nassau County expires in 2015. Wang has made it known that the future of the Islanders on Long Island will be tied to the Lighthouse Project and getting a completely renovated arena for his team to play in. Wang has reportedly lost millions since he purchased the Islanders in 2000.
According to ESPN.com, the Islanders had the worst average attendance in the NHL this past season, averaging only 13,773. The Islanders were also last in attendance during the 2007-2008 season with a 13,640 average attendance. The Islanders finished with a league-worse 61 points this past season and have missed the playoffs in three out of the last four seasons. Wang is hoping that building the team with young players and success on the ice, along with the Lighthouse Project, will bring fans back to the Nassau Coliseum. If the project doesn’t go forward, Wang said he would consider his options, which include moving the team.
“If the Lighthouse at Long Island is not approved and developed in a manner that can financially support the transformation of the Nassau Coliseum, the New York Islanders will leave this venue,” the DGEIS states.
While the Lighthouse Project does have wide support, there are some environmental concerns, such as traffic. According to the DGEIS, the project will generate 1,610 (981 in and 629 out) new vehicle trips during morning peak (between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.) and during the evening peak (4 to 8 p.m.), the project is expected to generate 3,887 (1,936 in and 1,951 out) new vehicle trips.
Another consideration, although not an environmental one, will be which entity or entities will provide funding for the Lighthouse Project. On the Lighthouse Project’s website, www.lighthouseli.com, it states that “Nassau County will not be providing any financial support for this project.”
However, the recent construction of professional sports venues in New York such as Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, and the new Yankee Stadium, home of the Yankees, have both received a form of public financing.
Said Wang in a statement, “We are looking forward to continuing to work with the community, Town of Hempstead and Nassau County as the Lighthouse Project moves forward. The Lighthouse is a catalyst to kick-start Long Island’s economy, and we need it now.”