May 6, 2010
A casino deserves serious consideration
By Al D'Amato
Last week, freshman Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano laid it on the line for county residents. He told us that the county is facing a $286 million deficit, the largest in its history. Because Mangano is committed to not raising taxes, he must be proactive and think outside the box for ways to raise much-needed revenue.
And so, last Tuesday, Mangano announced that he was in the early stages of negotiations with the Shinnecock Nation regarding the possibility of constructing a casino and entertainment center on the 77-acre Nassau Coliseum site and the surrounding property. The idea may have shocked many of my fellow Long Islanders, but believe me, it deserves serious consideration.
Understandably, there are many questions about a project of this magnitude, but Mangano's proposal has tremendous potential to create the job and revenue growth Long Island desperately needs.
In my opinion, in today's economy, it makes a lot more sense than the previously proposed Lighthouse project. For six years, real estate developer Charles Wang, the majority owner of the New York Islanders, has been pressuring elected officials from the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County to authorize this $3.7 billion project.
Wang's proposal encompasses 150 acres, and would transform the Coliseum and the surrounding property into condominiums, a five-star hotel, an athletics complex and corporate offices, highlighted by two 36-story office towers.
Although home prices in Nassau County have remained steady and property in many communities is still valuable, such is not the case for the commercial real estate market. Office space is being leased, but landlords have been forced to renegotiate contracts with tenants at remarkably reduced rates. There are also fewer leases being signed than in previous years.
Six years ago our economy was in much better shape. It might have been possible to finance the project and fill 36 stories of office space. Now, regardless of the developer, it's impossible. Even though the commercial realty market has been creeping back, the current market would not be able to sustain such a grand endeavor.
Let's face the facts. The Nassau Coliseum needs dramatic reformation. The Islanders now play in the smallest and third-oldest arena in the National Hockey League. They survive on subsidies from Wang. A new arena would be a win-win for the franchise and the surrounding area, which is currently not very desirable. We must make sure that the only major sports franchise that calls Long Island home stays put.
Yes, there are many obstacles that could potentially stand in the way of a casino project. First and foremost, county residents must be on board. The citizens, community and business groups, and elected officials need to come together and agree that building a casino and entertainment center in this location is desirable.
With Hofstra University and Nassau Community College in close proximity, traffic and safety are major concerns and must be addressed. It's not enough to build more roads. A casino
is not sustainable without mass transportation; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Rail Road have to be involved.
Next, the Shinnecock Nation must become a federally recognized tribe. Without federal recognition, the tribe wouldn't be eligible to obtain the Class III gaming license needed to operate a high-stakes casino. Based on early reports, the tribe is expected to gain recognition by mid-July. It must then choose the site for a reservation — Nassau is just one site in the mix.
Then the tribe would have to enter into negotiations with the state and secure a land-in-trust agreement with the federal government. In essence, this would declare the Coliseum and the surrounding 75 acres tribal ground and permit gambling.
This process will not be easy, but we shouldn't let the obstacles of innovation distract us from the potentials of long-term growth.
Just months into his first term, Mangano has demonstrated the innovative thinking the county needs to alleviate our budget woes. His plan could turn a new page for Nassau, and turn it into a visitor destination and entertainment empire that brings in millions of dollars in tax revenue, expands the tax base and keeps the New York Islanders on Long Island.
Al D'Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. He writes weekly for the Herald on topics of local and national interest. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.
Forever1940 is the nom de plume of Eric Hornick, statistician on Islander home telecasts since 1982. Visit my blog: forever1940.blogspot.com and follow me on Twitter @ehornick