Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Developers Hope to Raise Nassau Coliseum from Dead

A group of developers is hoping to bring Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum back from the dead — even as its signature hockey team prepares to slide into Brooklyn.  The coalition of entertainment operators, which includes the Yankees, Jay-Z, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Live Nation, envision a new future for the Uniondale venue.  The current arena brings in over $200 million annually to the local economy. A decision from Nassau County is due by mid-July.

The sagging 41-year-old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is losing its anchor tenant after the 2014-2015 season.  But with the departure of the New York Islanders, four developers are keen to overhaul the Uniondale, Long Island building.

Interest in sports venues has soared after the success of Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn.

Hoping to create the same sort of cash cow on Long Island, two developers have emerged as front-runners with competing blockbuster arena bids: one wants to build over the existing structure, and the other wants to build a new one on the same site tear it down.

Forest City Ratner

The first developer, Forest City Ratner Companies, has assembled a team of world-class event operators and designers. It is led by executive chairman Bruce Ratner and Brett Yormark, CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center.

The group includes Legends, which is co-owned by the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, as well as concert promoter Live Nation, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, sports financiers Guggenheim Partners and Barclay’s architects, SHoP.

Ratner’s group is primed for a complete design overhaul, taking seating capacity down from about 17,500 to around 13,000. Along with a major international music venue, his plans include a food bazaar and fine dining, a 2,500-seat amphitheater, a 2,000-seat Live Nation-type House of Blues concept and a 50,000-square-foot movie theater.

The total development cost is projected at $230 million. The arena renovation would take 15 months.

“It’s this giant underrated asset sitting there,” Ratner said of the arena. “Live events are the future of how we will get together as people. The experience has to be unforgettable.” His team has the savvy to create a winning design, he said.

“Only two major arenas have been built in New York City in the last half a century — Barclays and MSG. We know how to get this done,” he said.

“This will be the kind of arena that people walk into and say, ‘Wow,’ the kind of place where the people of Long Island want to come and the best acts in the world play.” If the Ratner plan wins, he says Long Island can expect more than 300 indoor and outdoor events annually.

"This has to be huge,” he said. “I don’t think anyone understands how huge this can be. Ratner sees a distinct market in the 2.8 million people who live in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and a shift in why live events have increased in price and popularity.

SHoP’s plan offers a white metal latticework frame to wrap the coliseum’s existing brick facade. The grounds will take on the feel of meadow. The interiors, by architectural firm Gensler, would be gutted to provide a theater like, curvy design.

Blumenfeld Development Group

In contrast, Blumenfeld Development Group wants to tear the building down. It plans a new coliseum with 9,000 to 12,000 seats, a state-of-the-art convention center and a mixed-use residential, retail and commercial complex.

“We’re going to use the full 77 acres,” said Brad Blumenfeld, vice president of the family-based group that has built office centers and big-box retail throughout Long Island.

“The arena has to go. We lost the sports team. We can serve the area with a smaller building offering a more intimate experience while providing what the county needs — tax revenue and housing.”

Blumenfeld hired Mark Rosentraub, a sports consultant and professor, to better understand Long Island’s entertainment complex needs. Their arena partner, SMG, operates the Live at Leeds concert venue in England.

“The trend all around the country is toward smaller arenas and stadiums,” said Rosentraub.

“This plan deserves attention because it creates a new neighborhood. Renovating an old, cruddy arena isn’t the answer here.”

A decision from Nassau County is due by mid-July. The current arena brings in over $200 million annually to the local economy.