SPECIAL COMMENT: Joe Conte Writes “The Islanders are not done in Nassau County”

Today I lend the HockeyIndependent.com Isles floor to Joe Conte, an activist who has been a firm supporter of the Lighthouse Project, an outspoken critic of the Town of Hempstead… who infamously made Republican boss Joseph “Backroom Deal” Mondello break out his anti-Islanders stance in mere seconds as he shout: “Blow it out your duffel bag!”. Joe has been involved in Nassau politics for the last 2 years.

Joe has an impassioned and essential non-partisan plea and plan on how things can get done, and it’s worth a read…

 

Joe Conte:

The Islanders are not done in Nassau County; in fact, the failure of the bond referendum has placed a new emphasis on privately developing the Hub. Our role as fans and supporters of development should now be to change the conversation on what should be done to revitalize the Hub and keep the Islanders in Nassau County. Some of the best and brightest minds are now developing plans for the Hub, so the question now becomes, how do we best utilize the land and keep the Islanders in Nassau County.

To do this, the four main players who will ultimately determine a) what becomes of the Hub and b) if the Islanders remain there, must work together and execute a well constructed plan.  Nassau County, Charles Wang, a yet to be determined developer, and our beloved Town of Hempstead have important roles to play; ones that if they truly embrace will allow them to come out on top and really get Nassau County back on the right foot.

The county has the most important role to play since it owns the land, the Coliseum and is the government entity that decides who gets to develop.  Despite their outsized role, there is really only one critical decision they have to make to ensure the project is done right; and that is to issue a request for qualifications (RFQ).  I repeat an RFQ, not a request for proposals (RFP), it is imperative and here’s why.

If the county were to issue an RFP, there would be limited flexibility to the project and to conform to the Town of Hempstead’s zoning regulations (see what happened to the Lighthouse project).  We have been down this road before, and to paraphrase Albert Einstein “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

An RFQ is a game changer.  RFQ’s allow for flexibility and for the final development to be created through an evolving process that gives a voice to all parties, which is essential for building political support.  As we learned from the Lighthouse project, all the public support in the world for a project does not mean it will be approved; support must come from all governmental and non-governmental entities in order for the project to truly be revolutionary.

The days of a developer cramming a project down a community’s throat are over.  The new and more successful development strategy involves the community from stage one of the planning process.  Using a crowd-sourcing platform, developers can now directly engage local communities. Residents can then give input into the design, feel and composition of the project.  By including the local residents in the planning phase it gives them a sense of ownership in the project.  Public ownership of the project increases those whole feel a vested interest in seeing the project completed, and; those people more likely to apply pressure on their representatives to make sure something gets done.

Once the county sets the stage with the RFQ, the onus falls on Wang to ensure the Islanders are a part of whatever plan is ultimately conceived from our RFQ process.  Working as a partner of a development team is something he must do.  It is the only way he keeps the Islanders on Long Island and cements his legacy through development of the Hub.

Wang should be done sticking his neck out when it comes to developing the Hub.  Twice politicians from both sides of the aisle have now burned him, so it stands to reason that he would not even want to be the lead on the new proposal (I have no idea if he does or not).  So what he should be doing is holding meetings with all parties who will be submitting qualifications to the RFQ.

All Wang needs is a seat at the table, which would allow him a level of influence; he needs to give up on the idea of complete control.  More importantly, it allows for a more experienced team to navigate the project from start to finish. Wang has not proven himself to be a successful developer. Despite his failures, it does not mean he is not the same successful businessman who put forward the most ambitious plan this Island has ever. Developing is hard because dealing with government is hard.  Politics is finicky; politicians are interested in their own survival.  It’s time for him to let professional, experience developers come in, and do all the hard work.  Then, he can take the credit for keeping the Islanders here and putting together the team that got it done.

The development team that ultimately wins the RFQ must be innovative, flexible and have experience in engaging in both the bottom up, community crowd sourcing approach, while at the same time have the experience in lining up political support from the elected officials.  This is no easy undertaking, but there are successful developers out there with the track record to get it done.  Wang must be open and willing to work with them.

I know every major developer and development team is circling the Hub like a pack of vultures, looking to sink their teeth into most valuable underdeveloped land in the county.  That’s fine and encouraged; no idea should be turned away.  But at the same time, we are only going to get one shot to revitalize the Hub, which means the project needs to be cutting edge.  If you narrow your qualifications to a developer who fits that profile, your options of which developer you want winning the RFQ become a lot more limited.  I do not need to stress how important development of the Hub is to Nassau County, you all already know this, so we must work to ensure we are having the right conversation about what we ultimately want to see done at the Hub; one that comes with the blessing of all the government localities.

Which brings us to the Town of Hempstead, who will determine whether the project maximizes its potential.  Moving forward we all must give the Town a clean slate, and I say this as one of the most vocal critics of their actions in the past. Let bygones be bygones and encourage everyone to work together.  Long Island’s future is too important to allow past grievances from standing in the way of progress.

The Town must take a proactive role in this process, something that they did not do last time.  This requires constant communications with the development team that wins the RFQ, so they can let their concerns and desires be known.  While it is easy to demonize them for their actions with the Lighthouse project, they did raise legitimate concerns, such as who would pay for the infrastructure upgrades.

The consciousness and conversation about development is changing on Long Island and our leaders in the Town are not too ignorant to realize that.  The Town just wants their say, which they had zero of last time.  As long as they are engaged from day one, are given a feeling of ownership in the project, they will come on board.  If this is done right, there will be too much pressure on them not to be.

Despite the doom and gloom forecasts for Long Island and the Islanders, there is no need to throw in the towel just yet.  There still remain four years on the lease and a hopefully the feeling of urgency gets the ball rolling.  Islander fans and residents of Nassau who support the type of development that would revitalize our local economy need to continue to stand together. The referendum was voted down not because of an anti-Islander or anti-development agenda.  In fact, we have a lot more allies in this fight then we may think.

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About the Author: B.D. Gallof is a published writer and hockey blogger. He writes about Hockey, NY Islanders & the NY Islanders venue situation for CBS New York. BD has been written up in Sports Illustrated, TSN.ca, the NY Times Slapshots blog, Yahoo's Sports and SportsBusiness Journal. He has been a featured blogger for The Huffington Post, as well as owner, lead writer, and managing editor at HockeyIndependent.com.

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  1. Jason says:

    Joe, thanks for the comments. At this point I would say screw nassau and go somewhere else. They had their chance.

  2. Vlad from Brooklyn says:

    Until we read about something REAL everything else is just words. We all witnessed Nassau politics at its best. Do not believe anymore. Time to move to Queens or Brooklyn where Isles options are far more attractive.

  3. Fra says:

    The Islanders not only need a new home, they also have to make a profit. They can’t loose money forever.
    In the same way, a private developer can’t (doesn’t want to) wait 30 years to break even. He would probably ask for way more money than the Islanders were willing to pay back to the County for the failed Arena.
    I don’t see a happy end for Nassau.

  4. Hockey1919 says:

    The County and TOH must love having these continued sunken costs by the developer. How much did it cost Wang to bid for the Lighthouse project the first time around? Now he gets to develop another proposal on his own dime for either the Coutnu or TOH to reject at their leisure. The County and TOH can keep the bidding process going until the only one no longer exhausted by the process is their handpicked crony. If Wang loses the next development round and the Islanders wind up being a prospective tenant of the Coliseum instead of an owner, than they are doomed to play small market hockey forever.

  5. Quebec City Islanders says:

    Quebec City is clearing the last hurdles for the construction of a new arena. Private corporate money isn’t available in Long Island like it is in Quebec City with Quebecor media company which has the money and will to bring the Islanders north. On Long Island it is all talk and with three other local buildings to compete with (MSG,Prudential,Barclays) Islander fans shouldn’t hold out that the next 4 years will be any different from the last 15 years.

    • Fra says:

      Will the Islanders move from Nassau County? Probably yes. Destination Quèbec City? I don’t think so. They will not leave the lucrative New York Tv market. As of today, their cable deal is worth $20 million and will rise up to $36 million for the 2030-2031 season. Who in his right mind would give up such a golden deal?

      • Steve says:

        Everyone always has a reason that the Islanders won’t move, but in the end all the reasons in the world won’t matter if someone wants to move them:

        http://www.examiner.com/atlanta-thrashers-in-atlanta/thrashers-moving-to-hamilton-yeah-right-and-i-m-dating-elisha-cuthbert

      • Et le but!! says:

        Sorry Fra, but the cable deal no longer saves them. First of all, it doesn’t matter what the annual payout is for the regional (RSN) cable deal, if the franchise runs at break even or at a loss. Sadly, history says the Islanders have run at that for the vast majority of their history- through the Ray Boe years, through the first four John Pickett years and the last seven or so of them, through the pigs at the trough, John Spano, and Charles Wang.

        Remember, that in Quebec City, they will share what would be 1/8th of the ridiculously lucrative CBC contract, one half of the RDS money, and could also broadcast games on their own regional network (they could easily have two – one for French and one for English), if they choose to do so, which is very well within possibility, if not probability.

        Cablevision can save it no more – not with Quebec City. Kiss it goodbye, now. They’ll win le Coupe de Stanley – 2016, as the Nordiques – just you watch. Sorry.

        • John Keitz says:

          Queens or Brooklyn are most likely. After that, Kansas City or Seattle. After that, Houston or Las Vegas. Sorry to burst your bubble in Quebec, but I’m more likely to see the Isles move here to Reno, than for you to see them in Quebec.

  6. Hockey Guy in Canada says:

    The Islanders having four years left on their lease doesn’t mean that Nassau County has four MORE years to form committees and all-inclusive focus groups to come up with eco-friendly ways of brainstorming a solution, etc., etc. The Islanders need to have a building in place by then. Sorry, but its almost too late for some in Nassau to start pretending to care about this.

  7. Isles Fanatic says:

    Nice read but unfortunatey time is running out faster than most will admit… THere is no time left to start and follow through the process you outline, even if your suggestions are very interesting.

    Time will run out, as the team and the NHL have both indicated that the team will not play one day longer in the building they presently occupy than is indicated by their lease.

    THe team will be sold by 2015 and moved (Wang is 70 yrs old and will not live forever), sadly, Quebec is looking more and more likely as tie goes on.

    But I could be wrong…

  8. John Keitz says:

    I would love to agree with you here, but the situation is hopeless in Nassau. As soon as a single Republican sides with any idea, all the Democrats will line up against him, and all the Republicans will back him (or vice versa). Nassau is politically incapable of getting anything done, and if they did agree on something, the greedy geezers of Garden City will throw a hissy fit and put a stop to whatever the actual plan turns out to be.

    Queens or Brooklyn will land the Isles in 2015. Time to start running out the clock. The “valuable” Hub will only be valuable to the makers of Round Up, because it will take a lot of spray to keep the weeds under control on the vacant lot that will be left where the Isles are playing now.