Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nassau County, Increase Your Role

Seal of Nassau County, New YorkImage via Wikipedia

If the Lighthouse Project is to progress to ultimate approval, Nassau County must begin to increase its role. This post was previously planned and by complete coincidence comes on the same day that Chris Botta reports rumors that the long-awaited lease between the Lighthouse Development Group and Nassau County will be announced some time this week.

Out Clause

Reader BR remembered whispers about 7 months ago of an out clause in the Islanders' lease agreement, and he is correct. According to Charles Wang, the Lighthouse and the County reached an agreement in 2007 that provides the New York Islanders with an out clause in their lease with Nassau County, currently scheduled to expire in 2015. However, the out clause puts the onus solely on Nassau County and has nothing to do with the ongoing re-zoning negotiations with the Town of Hempstead. According to the out clause, as is my understanding, the Nassau County Legislature has 120 days to approve the new lease agreement after Tom Suozzi submits the agreement. If approval does not occur by then, the Islanders' lease is considered null and void.

Most of this lease is not news to people, and it has in fact been largely complete for months. This is largely a timing play given that Mr. Wang's October 3 deadline is now a week away, and it puts full pressure on the Town of Hempstead to see the process to completion.

What I'm saying is just speculation right now. As readers have pointed out, re-zoning approval has to happen before any use of the land (and the lease) can commence. However, there are ways to get around this: there could be an agreement with certain conditionals in it, such as becoming void without re-zoning, or terms that are invoked based on what the Town of Hempstead approves. I am working on getting some information, and I will report whatever I find.

Nassau County Then

Our friend NYI Fan Central has asked many times why Tom Suozzi seemed to get a free pass when discussing the happenings around the Lighthouse. I did not want to go too deeply into those issues at the time, because I didn't think it would be valuable to look backward when so much had to be done going forward. However, as I learned more about the process, I realized Fan Central had a very good point, and let's have this discussion now. As we recall, the Lighthouse Project was originally unveiled in September 2004 (about 5 years ago right now - I remember because I did a research paper on it for a class that semester - wow, was still in school back then...), and the Town of Hempstead only got the re-zoning application in late 2007 (even though they keep saying early 2008). Let's take a look at the long and winding road that got us to this point - I've put together a rough sequence of events to help out:
  • Project is Proposed - Suozzi signs Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Charles Wang for the newly-christened Lighthouse Project, the proposed "downtown of Long Island"
  • The project is shockingly free of politics at first, though many in the usual crowd fixate on the proposed 60-story tower
  • 2005 campaign season starts off with a bang, as former Sen. Al D'Amato (also a former Computer Associates board member and the man who talked Charles Wang into purchasing the Islanders) fires a broadside and characterizes the Lighthouse as turning Nassau County into the "6th Borough." Gregory Peterson, running for Nassau County Executive, makes opposition to the Lighthouse a centerpiece of his campaign (Source - by the way, this investigative piece was very good, and you should all take a look)
  • The race guarantees nothing will be done until after Election Day (even though Tom Suozzi ended up winning in a blowout)
  • After Tom Suozzi wins, he soon decides he wants to run for governor
  • Lighthouse MOU is scrapped and thrown into a competitive bidding process
  • Lighthouse Project, with new partner Scott Rechler, wins the right to develop the land (though any Islanders-centric development would need to go to the team's owner...)
  • Project's size and scope increased to reflect new scale of development
  • Re-zoning application submitted to the Town of Hempstead
It suddenly becomes pretty clear how it took so long to get from where we were to where we are now. Hopefully, this will include lessons for both current and future developers.

This is an image of Nassau County (NY) Executi...Image via Wikipedia

Nassau County Now

The Town of Hempstead has a much more prominent role in the recent life of the Lighthouse because they are serving as Lead Agency for the environmental review and because they control zoning for the Lighthouse site. The County has, since June, largely stayed out of the process in public except to speak in favor at a meeting or to mention the impending deadline in the media. The County, when asked, deferred to the Town because they did not want to interfere with the Town's power throughout this process. That is a good and noble ideal, but there is still more the County could be doing to help the Lighthouse cause right now.

For example, Nassau County could be out there promoting the economic need for the Lighthouse. We saw so many residents on Tuesday try to have it both ways, saying they were in favor of a new Coliseum but against the development around the site. As we know, the whole concept of the Lighthouse came about because the County was unable to provide any public money for the construction of a new Coliseum (and I'm OK with that - I don't believe taxpayers should be shouldering the full burden of stadium/arena costs). I've proven conclusively that a privately-financed Coliseum does not work unless there is development around the area and the arena is used as, for lack of a better term, a loss leader. So many people still do not understand this, and the County should make very clear that this is both a) necessary, and b) the County's desired use for land it owns.

The County could also be taking a more active role in addressing opponents' concerns and allaying the fears of citizens who believe one of the many lies about the project. For example, there are still many residents who fear the impact of traffic (and it should be studied), and the use of natural resources such as water. The Nassau County Department of Public Works has endorsed the project and its proposed mitigation efforts, and many people did not know this until the Tuesday hearing. This could help residents who are worried about negative impact to the environment. In the same vein, Nassau County does not talk that much about specifics even though the Lighthouse is the centerpiece of Tom Suozzi's vision for a new suburbia. Our own loyal reader TheMetalChick shared her encounter with Uniondale residents who were concerned the Lighthouse would take their homes through eminent domain, when no such plans exist. The County should be doing more to get the basic facts about the project, in order to supplement the fantastic community outreach that the Lighthouse has done, almost from the beginning.

I have never doubted Nassau County's commitment to this process, but they should be more vocal as both the originating agency and the landowner. It is irresponsible to leave the Town and the Lighthouse to hash out the details, and I hope Tom Suozzi and the Legislature do not believe their work is over as soon as a lease is approved. Nobody's work is over until there are shovels in the ground.

Bottom Line

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 26:  (L-R) President of ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The Lighthouse Project is one that has implications across Long Island, from Manhasset to Montauk, and its ultimate fate will shape our destiny for generations to come. We all know there are certain powers reserved for the Town with which the County cannot interfere, but that does not mean the County should not be involved when it makes sense to be involved. There are many opportunities for the County to be out there educating residents on why this both a good idea and a necessary piece of Long Island's future (if, that is, we'd like to have a future). Nassau County owns the land and originally planted the seeds for the Lighthouse, and they must fulfill their role so the seed can soon sprout into a bright new day for our home.

Thankfully, the real crunch time is coming now. Nassau County must step up and include itself in the process to make sure that its vision for a new suburbia does not turn into a twisted nightmare. We cannot undo the countless mistakes that have been made in the past, but we can surely stop making mistakes going forward. Past failure is not an excuse to fail now, and the Lighthouse must be seen through to completion by all relevant agencies.

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  1. I hope everyone is reading today's Newsday piece. It's the best true reporting done on this intrigue and though only scratches the surface it finally sheds some light.

  2. There is even more to it than what that reporter uncovered so far. I hope this is an ongoing investigative series - and it's an absolute must-read for everyone following this project.

  3. I hope they dont use the past as an excuse to fail now... Murray's would have you believe that since other projects took forever NOT to get done is why this is taking so long...No excuses from the town or the county...Just get er done!

  4. I'm somewhat confused, you ripped me twice in your comment section earlier, but now somewhat agree with me on Suozzi/Nassau lack of involvement?

    Whatever, no hard feelings.

    I think Suozzi's motives and tactics here again have to be questioned with his timing because apparently he did not call Kate Murray (as he said in Newsday) and his lease agreement with Wang-Rechler mean absolutely nothing unless it's approved by Nassau legislature only after TOH approves or rejects rezoning.

    Also fair to say if Mr Botta was given this information and not Newsday the relationship with James Dolan's paper is not very good given the questionable coverage on a week the publisher resigned.

    I hope Suozzi did this to apply pressure and has legislative support but I suspect this may have happen only so Suozzi keeps his political promise to Wang-Rechler before his deadline and is seen as doing something while he's done nothing more to push an immediate TOH vote on zoning or all sides into a room to lock the doors and reach an agreement.

    When the MOU was approved in 2005-06 many in Nassau legislature said they would not vote for it again because of the 99 year lease. I could be wrong but very skeptical it's a slam dunk Suozzi's lease agreement will be approved by Nassau legislature.

    We need to know when they can vote on that lease agreement and if they can before TOH zoning vote.

    If Nassau legislature are allowed to vote on this lease before TOH zoning vote and they turn down the lease agreement within a few days (as Picker made clear months ago) TOH may go into a zoning vote knowing by granting zoning approval Wang will offically be out of his Islander lease and can move the team.

    It's going to get very interesting if Nassau rejects Suozzi's lease with Wang-Rechler and then the TOH votes on rezoning. In that instance Murray/TOH could be the hero with a no vote preventing Wang from moving before 2015 or a yes vote meaning Wang, the Islanders, the Coliseum are out of TOH for good and they put what they want on the property less Wang-Rechler Marroit.

    Murray may have been right after all and development may be coming to that site, but not what anyone expected.

  5. Never ripped you - my position at the time was that we should be looking forward, and I couldn't understand why the comments were being made in threads that had nothing to do with Nassau County. It's an appropriate time to discuss this since the County should be doing more now.

    As for the lease questions - I've left a few messages with the Legislature, and hopefully we can get everything settled this week. It's clearly political posturing, and we have to see what this means - it can go either way.

  6. One thing, however, to remember is that the Town has that list of requirements before they'd approve re-zoning, and most of those would have to be included in the lease. A lease agreement that includes these things would eliminate a Town talking point and keep the focus on what eventually happens on the site.

    Just my guess - as I said in the post, this is all speculation until the announcement actually happens.

  7. the exchange above says it all about what has become. this is a 'just freakin do it' if i've ever seen one, and look what's happened.
    the tug-of-war over this piece of land has been going at least since the origin of the team.
    it's an important wasted asset for long island all this time. this is so clearly a worthy enterpise that not doing it would seem shady.

  8. Day1

    Well said. Democrats and Republicans should be MORE than ashamed of themselves for letting it come to this point. How petty have we all become as a society that our elected officials would rather BURY our future and pander to self interests instead of looking after OUR well being and our childrens' future.

    We're all arguing over the politics behind this project. All the naysayers should take a trip out to Las Vegas, Nevada and see why Long island has lost our youth to other areas. PERFECT example is Town Square out there. Look it up, people. AMAZING. This is EXACTLY what should be in EVERY area on LI that needs redevelopment. JUST like the Lighthouse. JUST like HEARTLAND in Suffolk. TOH, and the rest of you out there that have your "doubts" about this project, GO LOOK IT UP AND SEE WHAT THE FUTURE CAN BE HERE!!!!!!!!


    Damn, I'm angry.

    -Big Van Vader

  9. Nick, let's keep in mind Suozzi's constant mantra of no LH, no Islanders is something he has said repetedly, Wang has never directly made that threat.

    It comes off as Suozzi's way of saying Nassau will never do anything for any Islander owner despite NYC, NJ looking out for every other team now and in the past with Msg's tax exeption they still enjoy to this day and the new financed ballparks combined with Newark giving the Devils full ownership and 100m for construction.

    Suozzi's actions can be political posturing to get the project approved but I see this as him either keeping his promise to Wang-Rechler on throwing out a lease agreement by 10/3 deadline but as you noted for him to obviously not consider or include anything TOH wanted as part of that lease it seems apparent Suozzi's given up or this is his take it or leave it offer to TOH which is terrible politics to play at a time he is not obligated to conclude a lease until TOH zoning vote.

    Or Suozzi and TOH with the developers have come to terms on a Nassau lease that clears a hurdle for a TOH zoning vote.

    Given the articles/tone and the comments that seems impossible unless the doors have been closed and negotiations have been taking place.

    To me this raises more than fair questions as to Suozzi's neglect of the Islanders since he has entered office after Tom Gulotta stuck all Islander owners into this situation.

    Suozzi the day this falls apart better be the first one to change his stance and break the bad news. The taxpayers buyout Smg, pay for a new Coliseum and whoever owns the New York Islanders go nowhere.

  10. I think you completely misunderstood what I said here. The County is, sadly, broke, like many other areas, and they don't have the kind of borrowing power of a city. It doesn't matter whether or not you like it, because the cold hard truth is that no Lighthouse = no Islanders (also, the video they showed at the re-zoning hearing said it). An arena by itself is not a good investment, because as I've been saying since this blog started there is a marked difference between making money and making enough money to cover an outlay of $400 million.

    With the 2 scenarios you laid out, I believe it's the latter (setting the stage for a vote). I said that TOH is asking for the Lighthouse to commit to things that will be a part of the lease, and therefore a signed lease (contingent on re-zoning, of course) could provide part of the impetus for approval.

    Also - and this may be my take, but it seems like a rather educated guess - how do you think a taxpayer-funded arena would play among the general public? I think it would have far less support than this. I like this project as much as I do partially because I'm against cities paying as much as they do on sports facilities when in some cases basic services are neglected. The fact that this project is in place and providing something that the community sorely needs is, to me, a breath of fresh air from other owners who reach into a city's pocket and then come up for air to ask for more money.

    All I can say is this - there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. Suozzi did not "neglect" the Islanders by any means - you can criticize him because his quixotic run for governor and his competitive bidding process that everyone knew had to end with a Wang victory held up the process. Otherwise, it is not that cut and dry.

    As for everything else you said - it's all speculation because none of us at this time know what's going on. We don't know what the agreement states, or even if there is an agreement. Let's wait for that before launching into these kinds of conversations.

  11. great discussion above by both you guys.
    meanwhile - suozzi: "We're in the middle of an economic recession and here are two credible people . . . who want to invest $3.8 billion in Long Island. Why are we not doing everything we can instead of putting up roadblocks?"
    if it doesn't happen the beans will be spilled. If not now, later.