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Ratner, Madison Square Garden owners and local developers square off over Coliseum

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Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013 3:00 pm

With the NBA and NHL playoffs in full swing, the owners of Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center have now entered their own high-stakes competition for the right to redevelop the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Development teams headed by Barclays developer Bruce Ratner and Madison Square Garden Company CEO Hank Ratner (no relation) made competing presentations of their visions for the Coliseum at a press event in Mineola Thursday, in the first formal unveiling of plans since the county sent out a request for proposal in late March.

Two Long Island based groups, New York Sports LLC and Blumenfeld Development Group, also presented plans for the arena, whose future has been in question since New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announced in October that his franchise would leave its long-time Nassau home for Ratner’s Barclay’s Center.

The event also featured an appearance by hip-hop legend and Brooklyn Nets brand symbol Jay-Z, who collaborated with Ratner during the Nets’ move to Brooklyn and entered midway through the Ratner group’s presentation to the snap and hiss of camera flashes.

“Jay-Z’s going to join them here today, so to parody his phrase, we may have 99 problems but the Coliseum won’t be one of them,” said Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano ahead of the presentations. Mangano added that the presentations were the first step in a process that will feature public input and recommendations from the request-for-proposal committee following review of the proposed plans.

The new plans, presented before a panel of 17 Nassau business leaders who will assist the county in selecting the winning proposal, are the latest effort to revamp the aging arena.

Wang’s Lighthouse Project, a $3.8 billion plan to redevelop the Nassau Hub, stalled in the face of opposition from the Town of Hempstead, and Mangano’s 2011 referendum to publicly finance a new arena was rejected by voters.

Ratner, who helped the county develop the request for proposal, is partnering with Brooklyn Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation, New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys joint food service venture Legends, the entertainment company Live Nation, financial services company Guggenheim Partners and Barclays Center architectural firm SHoP. Brett Yormark, Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets CEO, termed the group a “dream team.”

The Bruce Ratner group’s plan calls for a reduction in seating from the Coliseum’s 17,686 seating capacity to 13,000, an aesthetic revamp of the arena’s interior and concrete facade, the building of a monument to Nassau’s military veterans and more than 300 annual sports, music and entertainment events. The renovations are anticipated to require a 15-month arena closure and will cost the group about $89 million. Future development, including the rehabilitation of the existing convention center and the building of a 2,000 seat theater, a cinema and an outdoor amphitheater is projected to cost an additional $140 million.

“It will all work together in a remarkable way,” said Ratner, who compared the project’s importance to Nassau to Paris’ Eiffel Tower and the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “That’s the vision we want to show.”

Ratner’s group, titled Nassau Events Center LLC, includes some small consolation for Islanders fans in its proposal: the team, scheduled to leave Nassau in 2015, would play at least six regular season games per year in the revamped Coliseum.

Madison Square Garden’s group, which includes nationally recognized developers the Cordish Companies, Long Island real estate company RXR Realty, and the architectural firm behind the current renovation of the Garden, promised an up-front $250 million investment without conditions on outside financing.

The proposal touted a renovation of the arena’s facade and concourse, a performance area with seating scalable from 14,500 down to 1,700, a new entertainment district dubbed “Long Island Live!” and the relocation of a professional sports team - either the WNBA’s New York Liberty, the New York Rangers’ minor league affiliate or the New York Knicks’ D League squad - to the Coliseum.

“Said simply, our group is uniquely qualified to create a world-class destination for Long Island,” said Madison Square Garden Company President and CEO Hank Ratner. “For us, it’s not just business. It’s personal.”

The Garden group’s plan includes the use of the company’s entertainment expertise and contacts to attract first-class talent to the arena, according to the presentation. Representatives pointed to the company’s purchase of major venues in Chicago and Boston, citing figures that showed jumps in event bookings under Garden management.

Long Island-based Blumenfeld Development Group, partnered with worldwide venue management firm SMG and University of Michigan sports management expert Scott Rosentraub, split from the crowd and proposed demolishing the Coliseum and starting from scratch to build what owner Ed Blumenthal described as an “iconic” arena.

“We’re a local firm,” Blumenthal said. “We have a vision for Long Island that Long Island should not be a secondary place.”

The rebuild would cost $200 million and would be paired with a revamped exhibition center, shopping and residential development. The new arena would house a minor league sports franchise, and Blumenfeld would purchase an American Hockey League team if it was necessary to make that happen, according to the presentation

“This is a market that can support a professional franchise,” said Blumenfeld Group Development Associate Raffaela Petrasek.

Vice President David Blumenfeld included a dig at Bruce Ratner’s and Madison Square Garden’s New York City commitments, saying that his group does not have any professional conflicts in developing a new Coliseum.

New York Sports and Entertainment, a smaller group headed by Nassau native Bernie Shereck, proposed to cut the Coliseum’s seating to between 8,000 and 10,000, saying that they had secured commitments to bring a minor league hockey team and a lacrosse team to the site.

“There’s no reason why that can’t be one of the finest venues in the country for people to bring their families,” Shereck said.

Shereck’s associate Jim Johnson said he was aware the group was going up against much better funded competition. Shereck’s plan calls for between $60 and $80 million in renovations, and to leave the arena’s exterior untouched.

“We’re clearly underdogs,” Johnson said.

Nassau Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Joseph Kearney told Blank Slate Media that his agency could potentially provide financing or tax benefits for the selected proposal, but that there were no plans for such action as of yet.

“If there’s a role for us to play, I’d be very enthusiastic to be a part of it,” Kearney said. “Hopefully there will be something.”

Groups aside from Bruce Ratner’s noted the difficulty of putting together a proposal on one month’s notice. Madison Square Garden Company CEO Hank Ratner would not comment on whether he believed the Barclays group had an advantage, given that Bruce Ratner assisted the county in writing the request for proposal.

“I’ll let you guys reach conclusions on that,” Hank Ratner  “We’re really looking to fill the void and raise the quality of life.”

Mangano is expected to select a bid by July 15, according to Newsday, and the county Legislature would then vote on whether to accept the proposal.

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