“While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand; when falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall; and when Rome falls – the world.” Those famous words describing ancient Rome were written on the office wall of the executive director of Mitchel Field when the Nassau Coliseum was being constructed in 1971 (New York Times 12/5/1971 “A Colossus Rises on Hempstead Plains”). When the Nassau Coliseum opened in 1972, built for under $32 million, that Nassau County leader understood the enormous impact the new arena at Mitchel Field would have on its Long Island community.
Today, Long Island is at a tipping point and the Nassau Coliseum is the nexus of the fiscal and emotional morass many Nassau County residents feel. The rebuilding of a new and improved entertainment center at Nassau County’s 77-acre Hub site would be a sure sign to all that Long Island will continue to be a major league community in this new century. In many ways, if the Nassau Coliseum falls, Long Island as we know it shall fall, and when Long Island falls, the American Dream that created Long Island in the first place, is in danger of being lost. It is therefore imperative that Nassau County’s leaders act decisively and boldly to make sure that the Colossus which rose on the Hempstead Plains forty years ago, does not fall and becomes a place of abandonment and lost glory.
It is obvious that creative ideas and innovative thinking are in order to make the Hub a beacon drawing people from all over to visit our region. The proposal last year by the Shinnecock Indian Nation that was initially so positively embraced by Nassau County’s leaders, to have a portion of the Hub set aside for a casino, now needs to be fully explored. Given Nassau County’s taxpayers strong resistance to any additional tax burden relating to rebuilding the Nassau Coliseum, as the referendum this past summer surely demonstrated, other ways to get this accomplished must be explored.
So the following is offered for consideration to the ongoing public debate by this public servant.
Like Yankee Stadium and CitiField, the new Nassau Coliseum should be built adjacent to the old at its current 77-acre Hub site. There is also a need to have a steady stream of revenue to finance the construction of a new arena, other than new taxes from homeowners. One way to accomplish the goal of creating a new Coliseum for Nassau County and a new casino for the Shinnecock Indian Nation is to build a new Coliseum in the parking lot of the old Coliseum, and then turn the keys to the old Coliseum over to the Shinnecock Indian Nation to use as the location for its new casino. In addition to the $14 million that the New York Islanders promised to annually provide Nassau County for a new arena, the Shinnecock Indian Nation would provide a portion of their gaming receipts to reimburse the financial costs to build a new Coliseum with the understanding that the hosting community surrounding the Coliseum are first made whole for accepting the additional burden of a casino in their midst. While the new Coliseum is being built, the New York Islanders would agree to stay in the current building and the Shinnecock Indian Nation could use that time to get their casino plans in order.
Belmont Park should be updated as a world-class thoroughbred racing facility. That can be accomplished through the use of the revenue stream for capital improvements already set aside for NYRA from its Aqueduct VLT operation. As for jobs, building a new Coliseum and casino consecutively at the Hub will certainly create more jobs than just a casino at Belmont Park alone.
The State of New York, which owns and controls Belmont Park, should support the creation of additional recreational opportunities for the communities surrounding Belmont Park. Using some portion of the 28 acre parking field south of Hempstead Turnpike for use by local residents for soccer should be explored. Likewise, the parking field behind the Floral Park-Bellerose Elementary School, which presently is being used as a make-shift tractor trailer animal feed distribution/storage facility, a trash dumpster transfer yard and a new car storage lot, should be converted to create additional sporting fields for our local residents in keeping with our vision of improving Belmont Park.
The possibility of reutilizing the old Coliseum and creating a new world class entertainment arena allowing the Islanders to stay home on Long Island, while providing a reliable funding source dedicated to debt satisfaction as well as a continuing source of revenue for Nassau County taxpayers is a win-win for everyone.
This is a proposal that should be discussed by all the stakeholders and not immediately shot down by special interest lobbyists who have their own plans for the Hub plans, which do not provide a realistic chance for either the Coliseum for the New York Islanders or a new casino for the Shinnecock Indian Nation.