Viewpoint: County Executive Curran makes right call for Nassau Hub

Karen Rubin

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran made the right call when she did not extend the Blumenfeld lease to redevelop the Nassau Hub, and instead, called for new proposals, despite the gobsmacking repercussions.

The plan as presented to the Nassau Legislature on May 2 was a far cry from the way it was initially pitched because of changing circumstances.

Far from the “transformative” project it was supposed to be (indeed, required to be), in the interim, it lost the Feinstein Bioelectrical Medicine Center (which decided to use its $30 million from the state to build in Manhasset), leaving only Memorial Sloan Kettering as the high-tech/lifesciences job incubator; meanwhile, the new state-funded development at Belmont Racetrack (a new arena for the New York Islanders as well as a hotel, retail and office space) made the Hub’s own plans to be a sports and entertainment complex redundant and extraneous.

The planners brought in a sports marketing maven who has been involved in major redevelopment programs involving professional sports arenas to convince the county of the brilliance of the Blumenfeld scheme.

He also showed some projects (probably not his) that failed because they didn’t take into account the bigger picture.
And that’s exactly what was required here.

In essence, the project as envisioned wasn’t “transformative” enough to qualify for the $85 million which New York State promised to build a new parking structure, essential to free up the acreage for the new “transformative” redevelopment.

My own objections were that the plan depended too much on “experiential retail” – go-karts, a golf complex, even a minor-league baseball stadium that wouldn’t necessarily compete with nearby Roosevelt Field.

To my mind, this made the complex too dependent on a strong economy, but what happens when there is the inevitable recession? Moreover, the workers for these enterprises are almost entirely minimum wage earners who could barely afford housing anywhere near these jobs.
Furthermore, the complex, which was billed as an intact community where people could “live, work and play” without getting into their cars, did not provide enough housing (only 500 units were permitted under zoning), to sustain its own grocery store – residents would have to drive to pick up a carton of milk.

The question that was never raised is: how much volume, how much traffic is necessary for the complex to be economically sustainable?

They do say that the number of bookings at Coliseum has to exceed 150. So what would traffic volume be like by time of day, especially if it is dependent on discretionary spending activities?

All the arenas that were cited as becoming successful lynchpins for downtown redevelopment in various cities (Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Detroit), had professional sports teams as their anchor. That isn’t the case at the Coliseum, which lost the Islanders.

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association as well as the Regional Economic Development Council that is the conduit for state funding, raised questions whether the project as it was envisioned was special or transformative enough to qualify for the crucial $85 million state funding, now that Feinstein has decided to take its $30 million state funding and build its BioElectric Medical Research facility in Manhasset, instead.

But, Law said, that still leaves $20 million that the state has allocated that might be used to lure a top technology or life sciences company to the Hub.

As was noted, the Nassau Hub presents ”the largest undeveloped parcel in the county creates a singular opportunity” to create a sustainable community, one that truly is “live, work and play.”

The Hub could be a superb place for innovative affordable housing strategies that are appropriate to a mature Suburbia. Uniondale doesn’t want more children to crowd its schools? How about San Francisco-style affordable housing aimed at the young professionals who will be graduating out of Hofstra and NYIT working at Memorial Sloan Kettering and hopefully, more tech/research-based innovation companies that will be recruited to base there (that means affordable compared to the incomes people earn) apartments that are studio-style bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette, but share living room/public spaces – enough units that can support a grocery store (that should be the criteria for how many units), so that people don’t have to drive to get a loaf of bread, but rather, can hop on the rapid bus or railroad to get into the city or wherever they want to go (Brooklyn?).

It could also require the property owner to offer a number of zip-cars in order, and thereby reduce the number of parking spaces required.

It would accommodate transit-oriented development strategies – shuttle service provided by the property owners/developers and/or commercial tenants to the nearby railroad station.

It would require the developer to incorporate sustainable building design, rather than depend on the builder’s good intentions. It could be both a laboratory and a consumer of renewable energy systems and waste treatment systems (that generate electricity, heat and clean water).

Nassau County was the first Suburbia. It is now matured, with an unsustainable tax-base formula. This is an opportunity to innovate a New 21st Century Suburbia.

County Executive Laura Curran, speaking at the Vision Long Island Smart Growth Awards, noted that the county put out a new request for proposal “expressions of interest”.

“That doesn’t put as much pressure on submitter, you don’t have to put as much blood sweat and tears into it, there’s no fee, and not more than 10 pages. We are looking for interest, innovative ideas” to develop the 72 acres (after the five taken up by MSK).

“We are especially interested for this site in a high wage corporate employer, something that compliments Sloan Kettering, Hofstra University’s medical school, law school, – whether bio, engineering, tech. The reason we are so dead set on attracting a corporate employer, is because that will help get the $85 million semi-promised from the state for a parking garage, that frees up the rest of acreage that is parking lots now for development. That is the key – a corporate employer. We have smart, well-connected people in the room. Any ideas are welcome.”

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