Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nassau Coliseum press conference features college/pro hoops, Islanders, and boxing, but minor league hockey will be main tenant; Ratner says name will remain

Well, I missed the press conference yesterday at the Nassau Coliseum, but as the AP put it, in Kidd, Calipari, others help trumpet plans to renovate suburban NY’s Nassau Coliseum
A news conference to trumpet the selection of a developer to renovate a suburban New York sports arena morphed into a pep rally Friday, as sports luminaries including Jason Kidd and John Calipari joined elected officials and business leaders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets coach, University of Kentucky basketball coach Calipari were trotted out alongside New York Islanders star Matt Martin and boxing champion Bernard Hopkins as representatives of some of the sporting events that could be staged at a renovated coliseum.
Of course it was a pep rally. That's how they do it. The Islanders are expected to play six games, pending NHL approval, after the Coliseum's renovated. The Nets? Maybe an exhibition game. Kentucky? If they're playing in Brooklyn, they're nearby, but Brooklyn's a much better draw.

Timetable and name

The AP reported:
Bruce Ratner, executive chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies, which built the Barclays Center, said he expects renovations to begin in 2015 and be completed after about 18 months. In addition to the sports arena, Ratner envisions a bowling alley, movie theaters, restaurants and other amenities will be built on the 77-acre property, one of the largest parcels of open space remaining in the densely crowded suburb.
This project, which involves an investment of $229 million and guarantees of at least $195 million, looks like a much better deal than the $400 million in borrowing the county wanted taxpayers to approve (and keep the Islanders), or the proposal by rival Madison Square Garden, I have to wonder if there's a catch in the "no cost to taxpayers" plan.

For example, Ratner could renegotiate, or gain financing assistance. Or maybe his team has a better valuation for sponsorships than the county. He said yesterday that the name would remain Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but I have to think there will be aggressive sales of sponsorships.

Or maybe his team has a better sense of how the other elements of the project will deliver profits. (He's not paying for that land, is he?)

More than 200 events booked; minor league hockey key

According to a video posted by Newsday, Ratner said they already had more than 200 committed events, and promised college basketball, boxing, concerts, and more. (How many of those committed events are concerts?)

"We promise that this arena and entertainment complex, where 30 million cars pass a year, will be known far and wide as one of the most beautiful and striking arenas in the world," he said. The sightlines would remain, but the seats would be redone. The arena would be shrunk from about 15,000 seats to 13,000 seats, he said: "the most important thing is the experience of the fan."

Ratner likely was counting games from the expected main tenant, the current Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders' affiliate in the American Hockey League, though team officials told the Connecticut Post there's no agreement in place to move. (The team averaged 5300 fans per game this past season, though commenters on Lighthouse Hockey suggested the number could grow in more prosperous Nassau.)

As the New York Post put it, it's unlikely that the Islanders would move to the Barclays Center before the current 2015 schedule. The only way for the move to go faster is if the Town of Hempstead approves construction plans quickly.

Ratner's architectural record

Lighthouse Hockey quoted Ratner as saying, "If you look at other things we've done, you'll find the [architect's rendering] is what the building will actually look like." 

Not exactly. Yes, the SHoP rendering of the Barclays Center looks like the finished product, but the Atlantic Yards arena went through at least four other renderings.

Good for Mangano?

Newsday political columnist Dan Manison suggested that the plan to revise the Coliseum was "a redeeming public-relations coup" for county executive Ed Mangano, even if there were skeptics about Ratner's plan, or that Ratner was "the same businessman who lured the Islanders out of Nassau."

Former County Executive Tom Suozzi suggested that "we need to make sure that this plan will come to fruition as proposed," while his rival Adam Haber tried to drill down, suggesting that Islander owner's Charles Wang's proposal offered more revenue for Nassau. 

Then again, it also required public financing. But the bottom line is we really haven't seen how the numbers work.

Newsday's role

Newsday, interestingly enough, hasn't editorialized yet on the deal, though its owner, Cablevision, also owns second-place bidder Madison Square Garden, which said it would be "watching closely" as the deal faced approval in the county legislature.

As Kevin Schultz of Islanders Point Blank (and others, such as the LI Press) have pointed out, though Newsday promoted a report [which I found useful but simplistic] that Forest City Enterprises seems to have traded political contributions for tax breaks, the newspaper didn't point out that its parent company has also spent significantly on  New York political campaigns and committees

I'd add that Madison Square Garden gets a tax exemption that was once justified as needed to keep the Rangers and Knicks in New York City, and most observers think that's long overdue to be eliminated.

Might Islanders stay?

Forbes's Tom Van Riper, in Brooklyn Islanders? Not So Fast, suggested counter-intuitively that the Coliseum revamp is "enough to make you wonder if a deal is bound to be struck at some point to keep the Islanders at home."

Unlikely. Yes, teams generally do better when they're the lead tenant, but there doesn't appear to be a plan to install 100 luxury suites at the Coliseum (which has 32), nor is there a market. Such suites--and the access to Wall Street--are part of what make the move to Brooklyn plausible.

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