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Despite pageantry for revamped Nassau Coliseum, some uncomfortable truths (and a deceptive name)

Newsday/Randi Marshall on Twitter
The ribbon-cutting Friday, March 31 of "NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum Presented By New York Community Bank," garnered much press coverage and buzz.

After all, the revamped arena has a classier and more accessible interior, new wi-fi and Long Island Taste concessions (a la Brooklyn taste), and an exterior encased in a shiny metal skin from SHoP, the firm that wrapped the Barclays Center in a rusty metal skin.

Developer Bruce Ratner, of Forest City Ratner, and Brett Yormark, the chief marketer, surely basked in a ceremony reminiscent of successful launch, in September 2012, of the Barclays Center. Yes, the branding also looks similar, as Newsday's Randi Marshall pointed out.

And County Executive Ed Mangano (R-indicted) will deliver his State of the County Address at the Coliseum tonight.

But the hype got huge. In October 2013, Ratner claimed, "As the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, this will be to Nassau" and, on Friday, according to Newsday, he called it an “iconic” venue that “would rival the Eiffel Tower." Understandable scorn ensued on Twitter.

Moreover, just as the plaudits for the Brooklyn arena have distracted people from its lagging profits, the pageantry for the downsized arena in Nassau obscured some uncomfortable truths or complicating facts.
Looking at the promises

Consider: before construction Mangano promised the arena would be "employing 2,700 people," "host over 250 events annually, including six NY Islanders games... minor league hockey," and be upgraded thanks to "$260 million in private investment from Bruce Ratner’s Nassau Events Center (NEC)."

Will 2,700 people work full time at the arena? No way. Actually, the arena has hired about 1,500 part-timers, more than the claimed 1,300 when hiring began last November. Whatever the number, the limited schedule surely means that the full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs are far fewer. Salaries went unmentioned.

And if the arena created "more than 1,035 direct construction jobs, and more than 570 additional indirect and induced jobs in Nassau," as stated in a press release, well, we shouldn't count indirect jobs. Moreover, construction jobs are counted in job-years.

Will the arena host over 250 events? There will be “north of 200 events a year” at the Coliseum, Yormark told Newsday. One reason for the discrepancy is that Yormark habitually blows smoke. Another is that minor league hockey is not coming, after all, though Yormark said the arena is in negotiations to add a second team to the Long Island Nets. 

The EB-5 pitch in China used hockey
Another is that the six Islanders games are by no means certain and observers reported the Islanders' history is nearly erased. (Newsday quoted some sports industry experts, including the ubiquitous professor Andrew Zimbalist, as saying that the Coliseum still might be successful. Of course Zimbalist's work for Ratner on Atlantic Yards went unmentioned.)

Was there "$260 million in private investment from Bruce Ratner’s Nassau Events Center (NEC)"? Well, the renovation cost $165 million, according to the official press release. (The rest of the money, apparently, would go the yet-unbuilt entertainment complex on the 77-acre site.)

Of the money spent, $90 million was expected in a low-interest loan from 180 immigrant investors--most or all from China--seeking green cards under the questionable EB-5 program. The rationale for EB-5 is that it creates jobs, but the renovation was already on its way, so that's dubious. 

And while the money is not direct taxpayer funds, it's the equivalent of a subsidy, as noted by NYU's Jeanne Calderon. After all, if we sell our green cards, an alternative program might serve the public interest far more.

Who was missing?

Not only were the Chinese absent from the Coliseum pageant, so too--mostly--were the Russians. 

Though in October 2015 we learned that Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim Sports & Entertainment would take over 85% of NEC, Prokhorov and colleagues barely got a mention. (The press release did quote his deputy, Dmitry Razumov, Onexim CEO and Chairman of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, Prokhorov's umbrella vehicle.)

That means that, while Ratner's company may have managed the renovation, it did so on behalf of Prokhorov, whose company claims NYCB Live among its venues.

What's in a name?

As the logo suggests, NYCB Live takes precedence over "Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum." Look at the map below of the Ford Parking Lot for another example.

But there's a problem with the name "NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum Presented By New York Community Bank."

NYCB LIVE doesn't yet exist beyond the Coliseum. Yormark told Newsday in December 2014 that the Coliseum would keep its name while he sold naming rights to the sports and entertainment complex.

"We wanted to be respectful of the community," Yormark said. "Keeping the existing name is the right thing to do."

Yeah, sure. They've clearly blurred it.

As one Newsday commenter, Phil Insardi, wrote:
The name was supposed to be changed to "The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum presented by New York Community Bank". Suddenly the name changes again so NYCB can get top billing. The taxpayers of Nassau own the building. We should get top billing. It is not owned ny NYCB. It is incorrect and morally wrong to change the name to "NYCB Live's Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum". It's also time for the taxpayers to learn how much Ratner got paid for the renaming rights and how much Nassau County gets from that amount. 
We don't know the value of the deal, though 8% of gross revenue goes to Nassau.

Going forward

The Coliseum does look to have a busy opening, with Billy Joel, Stevie Nicks, Marc Anthony, Barbara Streisand, Metallica, The Weeknd, and Bruno Mars, plus the circus. (By the way, parking for Billy Joel is $40, Stevie Nicks, $30, and Idina Menzel $20-$30.) 

The question is what kind of deals they made to sign the acts, and whether they can sustain arena-filling shows. After all, Barclays started with a bang too.

Newsday noted delays in the announced plan to redevelop the 77-acre Hub around the Coliseum, and a lawsuit between Forest City Ratner and a former partner, Blumenfeld Development Group.

And when Yormark suggested that the Sprint Center in Kansas City and The Forum in Los Angeles do well without an anchor major league team, Newsday noted that those venues are in entertainment districts, not surrounded by a parking lot.

Will Nassau (with help from the state) lure the Islanders back to the downsized Coliseum, as Nassau County Legislature Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves expressed? We'll see.

The Islanders owners want to keep the team in New York City for TV revenue. Building a new arena would be enormously costly. My best guess is they'll try to renegotiate the deal with Barclays.

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