By Timothy Neschis
Part six in a series on the planned Las Vegas Sands Casino at the Nassau County Hub.
1255 Hempstead Turnpike. Since 1972, that has been the address of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, one of the few major sports venues on Long Island. It has been the home to a number of teams, from the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League to the New York Nets, now the Brooklyn Nets, of the National Basketball Association. The coliseum has also hosted many concerts, from David Bowie and Billy Joel to Led Zeppelin and the Beach Boys.
Now, the future of this storied structure is uncertain.
With Las Vegas Sands intent on building a casino there, the company has already signed a deal with Nassau County to lease the 72-acre coliseum site. Construction of a casino depends on New York State and Town of Hempstead approvals. The company, though, is preparing to build a $4 billion resort, which, in addition to the casino, would include conference spaces, ballrooms, hotel rooms, restaurants, spas and a health club.
“When you have a casino that drives in thousands of people a day, there has to be a way to incorporate the coliseum and fill the seats,” lifetime Islanders fan Eric Graham said. “I just really hope [Las Vegas Sands] officials listen to what the people are saying and keep it.”
Graham stressed why the coliseum holds such importance to him and other people who have visited the arena over the years. “There are so many lifetime memories made from that building,” Graham said. “I’ll never forget when my dad took me to my first Islanders game when I was just 5 years old. It’s a magical place and destroying it [would] hurt not only Islanders fans but people who’ve enjoyed concerts there and other shows as well.”
Bradley Davis, an Islanders fan and East Meadow resident, shared similar thoughts. “They know how important it is to us,” Davis said. The coliseum “has obviously had its share of rough days, years even, but it’s still just as important to us as it was back then.”
The fate of the coliseum remains to be seen, but an alternative venue for music and entertainment is planned.
“It may remain as it is, it may not,” Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Officer Rob Goldstein said of the coliseum. “We’re going to build an alternative venue no matter what to compliment that, but I don’t know at this point.”
The lease between Sands and Nassau, signed by County Executive Bruce Blakeman, states that Sands has control over the coliseum. The company can make additions, reductions, improvements or demolish any portion of the property. However, a decision must be made on the coliseum within five years of the lease’s adoption. The county can also ask Sands to demolish it if it were not used consistently or if it did not make $30 million or book 30 public events in one year.
Meanwhile, Nassau is to receive over $100 million in revenue annually. “When you are receiving this kind of money, you have to give your tenant a certain amount of leeway to develop the property the way they want to,” Blakeman said in a news conference. “They will have the opportunity to make decisions about the future of the coliseum.”
Blakeman, like many other Long Islanders, said he hopes the company will find a use for “The Old Barn,” but he knows the decision is no longer his to make. “I’m hopeful that they will find a use for the coliseum,” he said. “That’s going to be within their discretion. They’re paying a significant amount of money, and that will be according to their business judgment.”
Six years ago, a $180 million renovation of the coliseum was completed, transforming its design. Three years later, however, its future was uncertain yet again, as billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced that the arena would be closed until new investors were found to take over the debt.
Businessman Nick Mastrioianni II, who loaned $100 million of the renovation costs, stepped up and took over the lease to keep the structure alive. Three years later, Sands now owns the lease, and the debt will finally be paid, but the arena’s status is once again in jeopardy.
“Just figure something out,” Long Islander Cindy Miller said. “Every few years there’s talk about this old building, but rarely anything happens. It’s been going on for over a decade. Just tear it down or at least tell us what the plan is and actually go through with it.”
In 2004, then owner of the Islanders and the coliseum Charles Wang announced The Lighthouse Project. It was a plan to renovate the arena and develop the area surrounding it. It included a 60-story tower, new housing, a baseball stadium and other modern amenities. Three years later, the plan was revised to include two 30-story buildings, a sports complex and technology center, retail space and a hotel. It would have cost $3.75 billion and was approved by Nassau County in 2009, but never by the Town of Hempstead.
In 2011, the county announced that there was to be a public vote for a new arena to replace the coliseum. It was a $400 million public bond issue that also included a minor league baseball ballpark. Once again, it did not come to fruition as Nassau voters rejected the ballot measure by a 14-point margin. The coliseum is now used for minor league basketball and lacrosse, with the occasional concert or entertainment.