Friday, May 03, 2013

In Ratner's Nassau Coliseum proposal, many Brooklyn echoes (facade, promises, claims of being a good neighbor), plus an inside track against MSG

Deja vu? Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner (and partners') project to revamp and downsize the 40-year-old Nassau Coliseum draws much for the Barclays Center plan and design, right down to the buzzwords, partners, and question marks.

Four developers, notably Ratner's Nassau Events Center (NEC) and Madison Square Garden, made public presentations yesterday to Nassau business leaders who will advise County Executive Edward Mangano on choosing a developer.

As the New York Post put it:
Developer Bruce Ratner and Madison Square Garden officials yesterday pitched rival plans to renovate Nassau Coliseum that closely resemble Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and the major renovation of MSG.
Vetting the numbers?

Mangano's decision, according to Newsday, could come by July 15. The public benefit, despite lofty claims of new tax revenue, is fuzzy. The revamps are all supposed to be "privately funded," Mangano told reporters, but we don't know whether tax-exempt financing or other indirect subsidies will be involved.

Current image via Newsday
And, as Newsday reported, "Developers would be required to give the county a percentage of the gross revenue from arena events. Nassau officials asked the firms not to publicly discuss those figures."

Would Ratner's $229 million plan really "generate $4.3 billion in economic activity over 30 years and create 1,331 construction jobs and 1,100 permanent positions," as county officials told Newsday?

What's "economic activity" and how much does that help the public?

Would MSG's $250 million project"generate $11 billion in economic activity over 30 years and more than $300 million in sales and entertainment tax," as well as "1,200 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent positions"?

All such claims should be vetted by independent analysts and be presented in best-/middle-/worst-case scenarios.

Ratner vs. MSG

Given that Ratner has already advised Mangano on modernizing and shrinking the 16,000-seat capacity of Coliseum, long home to the New York Islanders hockey team (which is moving to Barclays), to focus on minor league sports and family shows, it's hard to doubt he has the inside track.

His Nassau Events Center can bring the pro teams from Brooklyn for selected games, and his partners are impressive, a "dream team" as claimed yesterday..

Then again, MSG just revamped the Garden and  can bring the Knicks and Rangers for practices and move one of its minor league teams. MSG and Ratner can most clearly compete on scheduling musical acts at multiple venues. 

MSG would build "Long Island Live," a five-acre entertainment district around the building, as well. The arena exterior would not look to change dramatically, as with the NEC proposal, but the facade would be updated, as with the current Garden in Manhattan.

A wild card issue: MSG's corporate sibling, Cablevision, owns Newsday, the dominant daily newspaper on Long Island. Would Nassau officials want to make nice with Newsday? Or would the prospect of arena advertising provoke a detente of sorts., and

The pitch from Brooklyn

"Hello Nassau," declared Nets/Barclays Center Brett Yormark at the event, in an echo of the "Hello Brooklyn" phrase/hashtag that helped rebrand the Nets. "We must reinvent and reimagine brand Nassau," he added, referencing the "Nassau like never before tag line."

“It would be what the Eiffel Tower is for Paris!” Ratner claimed, according to the Post, somehow confusing a 20th-century county built on highways with a classic of 19th century urbanism.

The surprise guest yesterday, as shown in the still photo at right from a Newsday video, was Jay-Z, whose Roc Nation would be among Ratner's partners and added star power no rival could muster. (Would Jay-Z open the revamped arena with a few shows? Sure he would.) No wonder Ratner was grinning.

The arena exterior would be renovated by, yes, Barclays Center facade architect SHoP. The plan aims to transform "the solid mass of concrete enveloping the building into an intricate wrap of folded metal fins."

This "skin," unlike the industrial/brownstone rust in Brooklyn, aims to evoke "beach dunes, dune fencing, decks, and boardwalks," and, as the image suggests, has a vertical energy compared to the Brooklyn arena's horizontal flow.

Other partners from the Barclays experience include Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim Sports & Entertainment, and Hunt Construction. The food service provider would not be Levy Premium Food Service, as at Barclays, but Legends, "a pioneering sports and entertainment company owned by the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, and Checketts Partners Investment Fund."

The pitch: 300+ events, including Islanders games

According to the 15-page presentation book (bottom):
NEC would develop a thoughtful and inspiring programming mix that would include more than 300 events annually ranging from concerts and family shows, to college basketball,  lacrosse, boxing, arena football, and hockey. In maintaining the venue’s historic connection to the New York Islanders, NEC would schedule at least six regular season home games at the Coliseum per year, in addition to making it home to a professional minor league hockey team. Also, NEC would acknowledge the building’s ties to the Brooklyn Nets by scheduling one preseason game a year.
While some hockey fans wondered why the Brooklyn team would send Islanders games back to the arena that couldn't support the team, there's some logic there. Not only would there likely be a Long Island audience for a limited number of Islanders games, that would free up the Barclays Center during the crowded winter months.

Decoding Ratner's message

From Ratner's introductory message in the pitch package:
Our experience developing the critically acclaimed Barclays Center makes us uniquely qualified for this opportunity. In order to bring Brooklyn and New York City the venue it so richly deserved we overcame many challenges during the past decade through innovation and know-how. Today we are thrilled that one of the world’s most spectacular arenas has entertained nearly 1.7 million guests. In our work at Barclays Center and other large entrepreneurial developments, we always value building strong community relationships and being a good neighbor. This is the record of accomplishment we seek to bring to Nassau. Our vision for the renewed arena that Long Island deserves is rooted in iconic design, marquee programming, and first-class hospitality. We want to create an economic engine for Nassau County that brings laughs, cheers, applause, and delight, and that will become part of the fabric of the County. 
(Emphases added)

Let's look a little more closely at the passages I highlighted.

They did not overcome those many challenges  merely "through innovation and know-how."

Yes, Ratner hired SHoP to put that skin on the discount "hangar" arena he once planned, but some other challenges required big bucks on lobbying, p.r., and the creation of grassroots community partners.

As to being a good neighbor, consider the regular episodes of bass leaking from the Barclays Center like a neighborhood sub-woofer. They just paid a fine this week, with not explanation or apology.

The phrase "economic engine" should set off all kinds of skepticism. Remember, Atlantic Yards as a whole--not the arena--was supposed to be an "economic engine," because, among other things, it would "create and retain" 10,000 office jobs. None of those office jobs have emerged, and even if one office tower is built, the number would be far fewer.

Now the arena itself, with nearly all its jobs part-time with no benefits, is termed an "economic engine."

Other proposals

According to the Long Island Herald, New York Sports and Entertainment, aims to bring a minor league hockey team and an an indoor-lacrosse team, and would recognize the importance of affordable tickets. (The implication: fancy renovations mean more expensive tickets, which worked in Brooklyn, maybe not on Long Island.)

The group did not present renderings but plan to cut seats from 16,000 to 8,000 to 10,000. Its partner Global Spectrum is a subsidiary of Comcast.

Blumenfeld Development, partnering with previous Coliseum operator SMG, would demolish, not renovate the coliseum, to produce an "iconic venue" paired with a convention center. The firm would buy a minor league hockey team to play there.

The NEC promotional trailer, via Barclays Center TV

The pitch book


  1. Scott9:21 PM

    The new coliseum will be just as great a neighbor as the current one! Either plan sounds great to me.
    Bring the Islanders back!

  2. Anonymous12:59 PM

    Politics at its finest. While the team that put Long Island on the map is forced to move to Brooklyn, the very same developer is now vying to rebuild the coliseum. The Islanders will move to an undersized arena with unknown sight lines in Brooklyn and have their former home reduced in capacity by the same developer. Does any of this make sense? How about building a true home for the Islanders and let them stay where they belong.

  3. Anonymous3:18 PM

    The bottom line is this. The county held a vote putting the tax payers in charge of keeping the islanders here . Charles wang would have put in money but he needed help. The taxpayers of nassua said no, therefore the team is moving. It is what it is. Charles wang every year in that dilapidated building lost money yet he pleaded with the county officials and fans to work something out. Now the county is acting like they care and making a spectacle of who gets the building. Its between ratner and ..... oh it dont matter. My islanders are leaving.