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…
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.
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.