Durso: Time running out on the Coliseum


by John R. Durso, Long Island Business News
August 2, 2012

This summer may be the last chance to catch the outgoing tide on the top economic development project for our region - the Coliseum and the surrounding high-value 77 acres of land. If a new arena is not built, the New York Islanders, its anchor tenant, has promised to find a new home when its lease expires in 2015. Understanding that it takes 2 1/2 years to build a new arena, we must act now. 

There is a lot of talk these days about policies necessary for job creation. Have we forgotten about the 2,000 existing jobs at the Nassau Coliseum? Last week I spent time talking to some of the people who work there, people who are going to be directly impacted if we cannot break the logjam preventing the redevelopment. 

Paul works part time as a security guard, a position he's held for 12 years. With two daughters ages 20 and 17, the eldest in college and the other preparing to enroll in September, it is a job he needs to keep. 

"If they (the Islanders) leave and they don't fix it up, it will be like a ghost town over there," he said. Paul is one of 150 security guards at the Coliseum working hockey games, concerts and special events. 

Similarly, Kerry works nights part time as a parking lot attendant. He has been there for almost 30 years. 

"It pays the bills. It's not like we're living like kings ... a lot of the men rely on it," he said. "And working there is like being with family - it's a nice place to be." 

John works full time at the Coliseum as a painter. He spoke with pride about the work he does, which includes painting the lines on the ice. He has two kids attending Nassau Community College. He worries whether he'll be able to find another job if the Coliseum closes and doubts if any would offer the same kind of benefits. At age 50, he says he's a "marked man" understanding how much tougher it is for older workers who lose their jobs. 

When he was asked what the impact would be if the Coliseum closed, he said, "a place full of tumbleweeds and a higher unemployment rate that people on Long Island can't imagine." He went on 

to recite a litany of positions that would be lost including related jobs like advertisers, event managers, vendors and suppliers. "It trickles down. People don't realize how many other businesses are connected to this place," he said. If the Islanders leave, he added, it's doubtful the Coliseum would survive. 

Many other workers like Paul, Kerry and John are facing the same uncertainties. A report commissioned by the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency estimated that if the Coliseum is shuttered, 2,660 jobs and approximately $104 million in annual payroll earnings would be lost. The analysis projects that the county could lose $243 million annually if the New York Islanders were to leave the Nassau Coliseum. The county government would lose sales tax, hotel tax and entertainment tax revenues of $7.8 million. On the other hand, starting work on a new arena could create 1,500 construction jobs right away, something our economy and our members urgently need. 

Our Long Island labor movement will not give up on this project - a lot of working families are counting on us. We will accelerate the efforts to bring together political, business and community leaders. 

It is not too late to find the right combination of creativity and leadership that can give our region and Nassau's hub a brighter future.

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