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Wang, Reckson Coliseum deal becomes official

BY MONTE R. YOUNG
STAFF WRITER

March 16, 2006, 4:16 PM EST


Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi made it official today, announcing in mid-afternoon that the team of billionaire businessman Charles Wang and Reckson Associates will renovate the aging Nassau Coliseum and develop the surrounding 77 acres of prime county land.

Minutes after Suozzi announced the expected winner, Minority Leader Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) lashed out at the deal saying that there are still "too many unanswered questions" about what Wang plans to build.

"We are concerned about the process of the biggest development deal ever in Nassau County," Schmitt said. "I hope he has not thrown this deal together so he can go off to Schnectady to run for governor and leave it to the legislature and the Town of Hempstead to deal with."

And Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said the legislature would give the agreement a careful review. "I'm certainly pleased that the county executive followed our recommendation for a Request for Proposals. That enhanced the project," Jacobs said.

But now the legislature will have to give it a just and careful review, with special emphasis on the environment, transportation and usage."

Jacobs said she could not say at this point if the 10 Democrats in the 19-member legislature would support Suozzi's recommendation to develop the project. "Nobody is going to rubberstamp anything, even if we are excited and invigorated by what we know of the proposal."

The decision comes after months of intense negotiations over the development of the area in Uniondale that has come to be called the Nassau Hub. Now it goes to the county legislature for consideration which would be followed by zoning measures by the Town of Hempstead.

"Their plan stood up against top-notch competition, and emerged as the best of the best," Suozzi said at a news conference in Mineola. "It matches the vision I've been talking about for 'New Suburbia.' We can look forward to a new minor-league ballpark, a renovated Coliseum, new housing and office space that will create excitement at the geographic heart of Nassau County and create an engine for economic growth. And we accomplish this at no cost to the taxpayers, while significantly increasing the tax base."

Last month, the county narrowed the candidates for the development to two: Wang's and Reckson Associates' Lighthouse Group vs. the New York Mets Development Corp. and Sterling Equities, with partner Blumenfeld Development Group.

"We got a call from county officials that our proposal had been accepted and we are thrilled," said Reckson Associates chief Scott Rechler, in a call from Australia, where he is on a business trip on Wednesday.

Rechler said the development of the hub area has been talked about for decades, but "This is the most momentum I've seen with public support for what the hub area can be. It's becoming a reality."

The decision comes after months of intense negotiations over the development of the area in Uniondale that has come to be called the Nassau Hub.

County officials said Nassau will get a renovated, state-of-the-art Coliseum financed entirely by the developers.

The $1.6-billion project includes a 22-story apartment tower, hotels, a stadium for a minor league baseball team, a sports technology center and a convention center.

Residents have long complained about conditions at the 16,300-seat Coliseum, one of the oldest arenas in the NHL, including shabby rest rooms and a sometimes leaky roof.

Wang said he has lost millions of dollars because the facility has few luxury suites.

County officials are projecting $162 million in new property tax revenue, and sales tax revenue on merchandise including tickets and food.

The Lighthouse Group will pay the county $1.5 million a year in rent for the Coliseum.