As appeared in Long Island Business News
August 9, 2012
By David Pennetta
When Nassau County took over Mitchel Field and opened the Veterans Memorial Coliseum 40 years ago this spring, the prime-located, 77-acre parcel seemed ripe for development. The new arena marque facing Hempstead Turnpike lit up with pro basketball, major league hockey and arena football game dates. Touring rock superstars filled the house. Conference planners booked space. A big hotel went up. The site’s potential seemed limitless.
Remarkably, nothing much has happened since. Sports team came, sports teams played, sports teams departed for other markets. Concert dates fell off. Conference bookings disappeared. The arena became a political football and the surrounding acres remained cracked pavement. The largest developable space in Nassau County 40 years ago remains the largest developable space in Nassau County today.
That’s a shame. But good news: behind the Coliseum’s cloud is Mitchel Field’s silver lining. The acreage can yet be developed as a center for employment, shopping, recreation, housing, health care and other economically beneficial uses. After many years of ignoring this potential, the county is finally moving in that direction, as evidenced in the Request for Qualifications issued July 10. Addressing potential Master Developers, the RFQ cited the many potential uses defined last year by the Town of Hempstead’s rezoning program; this recognition represents progress over earlier Coliseum-centric campaigns. The town’s land use policies, not the incumbent county executive’s preferences, will ultimately determine what gets built in Mitchel Field. In this case, that means mixed use. That’s a good thing. Developers, take note: Hempstead has completed its own engineering and traffic surveys and offers them on request, promising significant reductions in both cost and time.
Overall, this bodes well for Long Island’s economic future. We need more development along the lines Hempstead is encouraging. We’ve been suggesting as much for years. We like Mr. Mangano’s change in direction, and hope he will back it up when the time comes.
However, the new approach may not go far enough, given the political sandpit in which development is encased on Long Island. The Coliseum is a rat’s nest of political stalemating, legacy arena-management contracts and headache-inducing labor agreements; activity in this footprint, as history so clearly shows, is fraught with problems. There is an answer: separate economic development. Mr. Mangano, split off Coliseum redevelopment from the rest of Mitchel Field, even if that means creating two economic-development zones. Let’s give the Master Developer of Mitchel Field, whoever that turns out to be, a fighting chance.