It was billed as the Republican Roundtable on Economic Development, Sports and Tourism on Long Island. It may as well have been called, “How Can the Lighthouse Project Help YOUR Business?”
When they coined the term “Government for the people, by the people” I hardly think they had any idea there would be THAT many people to govern. Surely, you can never make everyone happy. However, the amount of industries and small businesses that could benefit from the proposed Lighthouse Project development and all it entails is remarkable and something I would have never thought of.
While this discussion was based on the sports industries, tourism and performing arts were also on the table for discussion.
As the NY Islanders are the only major sports franchise based within Nassau or Suffolk County, we are not in any financial position to lose them. The smart thing to do would be to bring in MORE sports franchises and events. That is what Assemblyman Rob Walker (R,C,I,WF-Hicksville) and Assemblyman Robert D. Barra (R,C,I-14th Assembly District) are trying to do.
A good portion of this meeting was about formulating a new bill to legalize Mixed Martial Arts in the State of NY. I didn’t know it was illegal here, but there are states where it is legal, and it is bringing not only fans, but tax revenue.
Marc Ratner, Vice President for Regulatory Affairs, Ultimate Fighting Championship, stated emphatically that they did not want to bring the UFC to any area that would not regulate it.
“We want to be regulated and pay taxes. This sport is on regional, national and cable TV. You’re not protecting people on Long Island. We’ll do big business.”
It’s a growing industry. There are 44 states that have an athletic committee. Thirty-seven of them have now approved Mixed Martial Arts. “I’m disappointed that New York State is holding people hostage.”
“We do a good job of that.” Mr. Walker quipped.
The six annual UFC shows generate $50 million dollars in revenue. This will bring a windfall in both state and local taxes, which the UFC is willing and EAGER to pay. But where can they have these events? If the current coliseum loses its main tenant, the county will not be able to afford to renovate it, and therefore it will not be profitable. As a matter of fact, one of the assemblymen stated he believed that right now the I.D.E.A. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) can come in and condemn the building.
In addition to the renovated Coliseum, the Lighthouse Project includes a convention center facility. Think hard. When was the last time you saw a major convention being held on Long Island? You haven’t.
They are all held in Manhattan because Long Island has no facility that can host one. This fact was reinforced by Joan LaRosa, Director of Sales, Long Island Convention & Visitors' Bureau and Sports Commission.
“We have no place for a convention. We’ve actually had to turn away meetings and conventions,” he said.
Turning them away is turning away their revenue, not only for the local governments but for the small business owners as well.
Rich Giuardino from Hofstra University said “The Lighthouse Project is important for this region. We hosted a Presidential debate (at Hofstra). This area can handle a large scale event. It’s important to Nassau County and the Island. We have to create our own stimulus plan. We want to lend our voice to the support of this project.”
Another voice of support for the project, although absent from this meeting, is Frank Boulton of the very successful Long Island Ducks. He would love to have a second minor league baseball team on Long Island, especially in a brand new stadium in the center of Nassau if the County would approve a request for proposal.
Think of the employment as well as the entertainment value. What a perfect marriage since the last remnants of the hockey season is the first week of June. Another baseball stadium would keep that area busy and profitable all summer long.
Michael Picker, President of the Lighthouse Project, addressed the panel. “We’re looking for answers and trying to get to the finish line. Our principal has set a deadline of October. After that, all bets are off. We’re trying to get approval and we are struggling a little. The project brings significant benefits. With it come issues, which we will deal with.”
Mr. Picker was asked what were some of the obstacles he felt they are facing. Mr. Picker answered “The SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process: Is it doing what it should be doing?”
I didn’t realize that the developer pays a consultant to review the documents for completeness for the town. The SEQRA process also identifies a maximum time frame, but it doesn’t identify a minimum. Is that really fair while the developer pays for the process?
“They have a maximum of 45 days to review the SEQRA. It doesn’t mean they can’t take less. It’s an important project,” he said.
It seems that the first pass is supposed to be for completeness and not for debate on the conclusions. “There were 179 comments on the first round. Nineteen were valid. That means 89 percent of the first round were not questions they should be asking now.”
Politics as usual as the town passes the “puck” to the County and so on. But We as Long Island need to decide what we WANT for Long Island.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who has had experience with SEQRA, chimed in. “SEQRA can be used as a tool or a weapon.”Mr. Thiele is a representative from the East End of Long Island. “You can have a good law and bad officials, or a bad law and good officials. We need to do everything we can to keep you [the Islanders] here. It is of critical importance.”
Mr. Picker continued, “No one wants to skip steps. Just don’t let politics get in the way. We get a battle between the Republicans and the Democrats. How do we get it done?”
This is an age old question. How do you get the parties to agree on something – anything—that will benefit everyone?
“There are bathrooms OUTSIDE the Coliseum.” This is indeed embarrassing. “We are so far behind the times. The county loses money on the Coliseum today. Without your major tenant, this building just goes away.”
Meanwhile, the Islander's organization is being courted by many areas in North America and Canada. “We have told everyone, we’re not interested. But once the time comes, we may have to think differently,” Mr. Picker said. He was not issuing an ultimatum, just stating facts.
Sports franchises are different from other businesses. Retail can pack up and move in a blink. They can pull a truck up in the middle of the night and be up and running in a different spot 24 hours later. You can’t do that with a hockey team. Time is of the essence here. You can’t wait until 2012 to think about where it’s going to be.
The assemblymen listened as Mr. Picker detailed what they already knew; how much tax revenue the county will lose if the Islanders have to relocate and how much tax revenue could be garnered if their development is approved.
Some detractors may say the Lighthouse Project has overestimated the potential revenue stream. Just take HALF our numbers and tell me if you think they’re good. In a cash-strapped economy, even half is staggering.
But if two prominent, highly visible Long Islander's can’t get a project done on Long Island, what does that say to anyone else who may want to develop and improve our economy? Charles wants to create a new industry, creating good paying jobs that marry sports and technology. He is willing to invest in our economy. Is there anyone else on this short line?
“What permits do you need?” Mr. Picker was asked. I thought he would be able to recite them in alphabetical or numeric order. But he answered “Our application is for 150 acres. We own eight acres of land. We put forth an application for 300 five-star hotel rooms, a conference center to do mid-level conferences, 2300 residential units, 20 percent of which are next generation, 500,000 sq. ft. of retail space, which would be complimentary. This is a mix-use, SMART-use development. We’ve spent $15,000,000 on this entitlement process. We need answers. We need the P.D.P. (Planned Development Permit) approved, the lease done with the County (which they have already begun working on), Sub-division approval and DEC and DOT signoffs.”
Mr. Picker said something very important that I hope didn‘t fall on deaf ears. “If we don‘t work sequentially we can‘t do it. We‘re surrounded by a lot of communities with varying view points. We can‘t please ALL of them.”
One of these groups that were identified in Newsday is the veterans. While the veterans organizations showed up to the 180th Community Outreach meeting and endorsed the project, a follow-up article cited complaints regarding the naming of the arena.
What was not covered in that article was the fact that the Lighthouse group had worked with the veterans in order to come up with a compromise to properly recognize them. By changing the name of the roadway where the development will be built, that would assure that the words “Veterans Memorial” would not be dropped from the Nassau Coliseum vocabulary.
In all seriousness, how many of us actually call it “The Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum”? Find me one.
Certainly traffic concerns are at the top of the list. Considering how much money, time and effort have been expended studying the traffic situation, Mr. Picker made an obvious statement. “If we create an unbearable traffic situation, we hurt ourselves.”
There were 279 intersections covered in the DGIS. Some would need to be configured right away, and others as the project develops. Traffic is a wide spread problem. Even Ron Foley, Regional Director for Long Island, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, admitted the annual air show over Jones Beach creates is a problem. Does anyone say “don’t do it”?
As one of the assemblymen took a trip down memory lane, he said something I never thought about. Years ago, on a Saturday night when Roosevelt Raceway was open with 30,000 patrons and the Islanders were playing with 12,000 patrons, and Hofstra may have had a basketball game, the roadways clogged, but they were not at a standstill.
It’s not as big a problem as people think.
There are ways to ease traffic problems: staggered work hours, traffic pattern changes during high volume egress of events, among others. The problems are not insurmountable.
“The peak hours are only part of the day.” Mr. Picker reasoned.
We have an opportunity to create a world-class leisure and recreational destination. We have the opportunity to create our own stimulus bill. We don’t have what the Lighthouse Project has to offer anywhere on Long Island. It can be a catalyst for change, or it can be a parking lot.
The people have to choose. The people have to be heard. The people have to tell their political representatives what they want. And they have to tell them NOW.