Saturday, February 27, 2010

St. Vincent's - A Lesson

(Hat tip to my good friend Kathy for this one - I hadn't known the full details until she motivated me to read up)  

I've wondered for a long time about the nature of the relationship between the Lighthouse Project, Nassau County, and the Town of Hempstead.  The Lighthouse has hardened its position of late, but before that the County was content to sit on the sidelines, and people within the Town of Hempstead have openly admitted that they expected the proposal to simply go away.  In the meantime, a small group of opponents who refuse to accept that 25% is not a majority have been trying to curry favor in an attempt to neuter the project beyond any level of usefulness to the community.  I marveled at how the sides did not seem to view each other as partners, with the Lighthouse and former Nassau executive Tom Suozzi repeatedly accusing the Town of Hempstead of dragging its feet and the Town of Hempstead calling Charles Wang a bully.  

I've also wondered what would truly happen if the project were to die....and all of this leads me to the saga of St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan.

St. Vincent's, as many know, is a hospital located at the tip of Greenwich Village, and it gained notoriety for treating many people affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  The hospital has recently fallen on hard times, with a reported $700 million in debt that, as a private institution, it could not easily recoup.  St. Vincent's resorted to a controversial, but creative, plan: build a new campus across the street (current site of the O'Toole Building...which is either a masterpiece or the ugliest building in Manhattan, depending on whom you ask) at a cost of $1.6 billion, partly financed by selling their current hospital building for $300 million so it could be converted to condos....Sound at all familiar?

The plan met with fierce opposition from the community for everything from the proposed height of the new hospital to the demolition of the O'Toole Building, which has landmark status.  Despite approval to revoke landmark status and clear the way for construction, the sides continued to bicker, and St. Vincent's sank deeper into debt.  The hospital recently had to receive a $6 million emergency loan from New York State in order to remain in business, and with hopes of a development dwindling it is highly likely that the hospital will either close or be taken over and re-opened in a scaled-down capacity.

Predictably, many residents are now upset about the very real prospect of losing their hospital, one of the very few in Manhattan below 14th Street, and being left with either an empty or under-utilized shell of a building.  It also means that amateur architects may be able to debate for a few more years (or decades) whether or not the O'Toole Building is ugly (hat tip to on that one).

(Blogger's Note: I'm not saying I'm in favor of the St. Vincent's development, or that I'm against it - I believe it's an interesting case study whose lessons we can apply to the Lighthouse.  No more, no less)

How Does This Relate to the Lighthouse?

You're probably wondering why I am talking about some hospital on a blog about the Lighthouse Project, but I believe it has everything to do with what we're facing now.

The Town of Hempstead has taken full control of the zoning process, leaving many (including our guest blogger, Marc Nicols) concerned that they will scale the project down to such a degree that it's not worth doing for the developer and does not provide the benefit to the community.  It's a very real concern, because we still have little insight into the Town of Hempstead's vision for the site.

I just ask you, quickly, to imagine what happens if the Lighthouse group leaves...

The Islanders are almost certainly gone, depriving Nassau Coliseum of its main tenant and throwing into doubt whether it makes financial sense to renovate the arena at all.

It would likely take years to find a new developer, who would build something that was neither big nor bold.

In that time, the blight would get worse, traffic would get worse, and more people seeking new opportunity will go somewhere other than Long Island.  Neighboring communities like Uniondale, Garden City, and Hempstead will feel the lack of opportunity.

Then, just like those who so bitterly opposed anything that could save St. Vincent's, the people who so roundly oppose the Lighthouse Project will rise up as one and ask:

Why can't we do something?

I don't want to wait that long, when it's too late to effect the greatest possible change.  I call on the Town of Hempstead and the Lighthouse Project to collaborate in the spirit of building something all Long Islanders can be proud of, and something that will put us away from the path of becoming New York's "Sixth Borough."

Let's not end up like the sorry tale of St. Vincent's - let's do something now.

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  1. Nick, I admire your intellect, your commitment to the LH ideal, and your persistence. This blog and your writings have been a source of information and even inspiration. But alas, I think you have reached a point of not wanting to accept a reality that is as obvious as can be. The TofH plan WILL be insufficient for the developers, impacting their funding sources and their ultimate bottom line. That is the only reason it's being done. The TofH knows it, the developers know it, and we should know it. Conversation has stopped not as a negotiating ploy, but rather, it is clear as day that the developers are done. The new lease that Suozzi arranged provides more day to day capital and/or makes the team more sellable. And now there is no need to talk, no need to rush. With the LH project in a deep coma if not dead, CW just waits for the best offer by 2015.... He does not need to do anythink now. Options will emerge. He's doing what he said, look at other options, and we won't know what they are. Bad for us, but reality. Could this change? Yes, if the TofH offer is better than expected... But it won't be. We have 5 years to accept reality. I suggest we start now.

  2. i'm not sure the LH is 100% dead, but it sure seems close. one thing i am sure of is if it is dead, it won't take 5 years for the owner to make a move. no way. i would expect if wang didn't make a move way before then on his own, the league would step in and force him to. that the islanders will not be playing in the same NVMC 5 years from now may be the only sure thing in all of this.

  3. Anon - I do see where you're coming from, and I don't think I've been living in any kind of a fantasy world. I've accepted the possibility that it's dead, but when I started writing this I signed up for a full tour of duty that expires when there's a final word. Until there's final word, the site lives.

  4. Nick - I love your desire and attention to this project. As an Islanders fan, do you know when Queens is going to announce their final developers. Alot of fans at games have been wondering if Wang and Rechler put a bid in for the Willets Point project. Fans need some good news in the worst way right now.

  5. That will likely not be revealed for some time, and I don't think it's a productive use of time for those people to get concerned over it. We likely won't know for a while.

  6. Agreed - the Lighthouse project is dead. The Islanders WILL move, the only questions remaining are when and where. Bet on Kansas City and sooner rather than later. Hint: Has anyone seen season ticket promotions for next year?

  7. ^ WTH?
    1- You say "agreed" but you are not "agreeing".
    2- You speak in absolutes about what WILL happen, even though you do not frickin know anything more than I do. You certainly dont know more than Nick does.
    3- There is not ONE BIT OF ANYTHING that ties the Islanders to Missouri, but there IS plenty of real and tangible evidence that shows how ridiculous it would be for the Isles to move out of their cable area. Not to mention the owner of the team has said that he does not want to sell OR move the team away. The fact that you brought up Kansas City squashes any cred your assertion MIGHT have had. No wonder you are anonymous.

  8. The TOH has been sticking it to Wang for 7 or so years now. I am glad he is sticking it back to them by not paying the TOH vendor for the environmental analiysis. Why should he deal with that ype of extortion anymore? I am also glad he did not kiss up to Katie and congratulate her on her win or Mangano for that matter. The TOH continue to drag their feet, surely the scale down proposal was an insult to Wang. Why comment? Stay low and see what transpires with Bklyn/Hamilton or KC for that matter. Wang has options now. Good for him! I maybe wrong but I do believe their is an out now for Wang with the new lease. He does not have to wait until 2015. He can claim the coliseum's lack of maintenance and void the contract. Am I correct on that Nick?

  9. I remember reading that who Frederick P. Clark assigned to drawing up these new plan was going say a lot about the future of the project. I was wondering if there was any news on what group they gave the project to. I am also wondering if the town has said anything about their desire size and scope for their development. I know from what I read from this site and others that they were looking at something decreased about 35% in size before they took over the project.


  10. I think I can sum this up in a nut shell..."Time is money", thats the bottom line...

    Murray waited so long to finally say she was willing to work with Wanger and Rechler to the point where Wang stopped paying the consultants...Now shes hiring her own consultants and whos paying for them??

    You guessed it, your taxes!!!

    A while back people were concerned about how this project would get payed for and NOBODY wanted to pay for a sport arena or a project like the LHP with their tax money...That was the #1 reason for opposition...Now Murray is doing the exact thing her constituents were concerned about and that was using tax $$$ to finance this...These politicians couldn't care less about the people...If she did she would've tried to work with Wang who was paying MILLIONS to see this thru....Instead shes using YOUR $$$...She thru Wangs money down the drain and now is going to squander OUR $$$ on her own vision if she actually has one....Its selfish and scandalous, IMHO....

    Hey, Nick, I was speaking with my Dr in Massapequa about the LHP and hes under the impression that Wang doesn't have the money and if he did this would've been built already...Thats the problem with Wangs stance to stay quiet...The ToH has spread their own propaganda...I wonder if Wanger did try and back out do to lack of funding but I could hardly blame him if he felt Murray was just going to hold out, causing him to spend, spend, spend...Maybe he just cant throw bad money after bad because he just cant trust her...I dont know...What do you think???

    Rob C

  11. I don't believe this scenario will happen in Uniondale. Now that the ToH has basically taken over the project, they'll come up with plans. Either Charles agrees or the ToH get other Developers to agree to it. It's a valuable piece of property. The ToH knows that, Nassau knows that & anyone who is interested in deveopling the area knows that. Long Island will be saved. I truly believe the people of Long Island are going to be ok, they're gonna make it. I'm optimistic, especially knowing how many developers would love the opportunity to build there. Many are just waiting for Charles to get out the way. By 2015-20 something beautiful will be Uniondale. Charles may not be the guy doing the building, but the people of Long Island will be saved nontheless.

  12. Mangano spoke at a breakfast yesterday at Crest Hollow CC. He's glad that the TOH took over the project because they have to be comfortable with what's built there, otherwise it's going to take another 8 years of political football. If the Islanders like the plans, that's great, If they decide to go elsewhere, that's their decision and we have other developers who will step in.

    My opinion--I understand that he and Murray do not want to be held hostage by Wang. I get that. But there has to be some recognition that if the Islanders leave under their watch, then their administrations have failed.

  13. Hey everyone - need to write a brief update, but there hasn't been much to report.

    mrlbem - thanks for that, will include it in my brief bit about Thursday's groundbreaking at Atlantic Yards. It's true that the Town needs to be comfortable with what gets built there, but your analysis hit the nail on the head. Charles Wang won the right to develop this land TWICE - once in 2004 and again in late 2006 after they threw it back to competitive bid. Since 2003, the Town of Hempstead had not lifted a finger to share their vision or desire for the site. Now, all of a sudden, they are going to "take over" and present whatever it is as a take-it-or-leave-it.

    They will likely get some kind of development, but if after all this the Town suddenly acts like they're the leaders, and the Islanders go somewhere else, they have failed. Pure and simple, they have failed.

  14. If Mangano really said TOH has other developers to develop around NVMC, then the Islanders should NOT be held hostage in NVMC until 2015 either.