Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rant #61: The Lighthouse Makes Me See Clearly Now

I don't know if visitors to this blog are aware of it, but one of the biggest stories encapsulating the region that I live in--Long Island, New York--is the status of The Lighthouse Project, an initiative which will turn a major, underutilized piece of real estate in the heart of one of the wealthiest counties in America--Nassau County, New York--into a mega-use area containing residential, retail and office space, as well as a new arena which would be the new home to the NHL's New York Islanders and is the centerpiece of the initiative.

The project, in its original form, came under intense scrutiny, as environmentalists claim it will hurt the groundwater situation in the area, while others said it would increase congestion in one of the already most highly congested hubs in the world, while others said that its retail base could never flourish, while others said it would bring thousands of kids into a school system which is already maxed out, while others said ...

Yes, and you wonder why it has taken years for the project to be approved by Town of Hempstead officials.

I know that we are in an economic downturn, but I put my full stamp of approval on this project.

And it has nothing to do with hockey. I hate hockey, by the way.

It has to do with the changing nature of the county that I live in.

The Islanders' current home, Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum was built during a period of great growth and prosperity for Nassau County. Many New York City residents had picked up and moved out of the city during the early 1970s, when this project was built, including my family. The arena signified the growth that Nassau County, and the whole of Long Island, was experiencing.

Things have slowed down during the past 30 years, although many new residents have come to the Island, a large majority of them Hispanic, from South America, Puerto Rico and other places around the world.

The current arena is not an eyesore as some would have you think, but it is sorely in need of a replacement, much like the Mets' Shea Stadium needed to be replaced (notice I did not say Yankee Stadium--the original Stadium should never have been replaced).

Anyway, couple a new arena with new residential housing, new retail, and new office buildings, and you would think you would have a no brainer for this area--but it hasn't been that way. Special interest groups have fought it all the way, although the common rank and file generally has given its thumb's up to the project--or some form of it--for years.

To these special interest groups, I think that if this idea did not exist, they would not exist either. Although they are free to speak their mind, let's face it, nobody would listen to them voice their concerns if it were not for this project.

Charles Wang (pictured), owner of the Islanders, formerly leader of Computer Associates, and the spearhead of the project, has poured millions into the project even before a shovel is full of dirt. He has threatened to move the Islanders if the project does not get done--and with new arenas/stadiums in New York City, New Jersey and elsewhere either built or on the fast forward drawing board, he has many, many options if this thing does not get done.

Admittedly, although very wealthy, he is not the most liked person in this area. He is sort of Long Island's answer to Donald Trump. But in this instance, and maybe only this instance, the general rank and file are behind him about 99 percent.

And that is the most important thing. It seems as if the public is generally backing the project. Not only that, but the local clergy is backing the project too--which may be a first. It is good to have God on your side, although at a rally yesterday, the clergy said something stupid like, "The project will provide jobs for Catholics and non-Catholic workers."

If I am a Jew, do I qualify? How about if I am an agnostic, do I not only burn in Hell, but I can't get a job her either?

As my previous post alluded to, I went to WWE wrestling yesterday with my son at the old arena, and yes, it is old--it had few of the amenities of other arenas, was cramped, and pretty much devoid of any atmosphere whatsoever.

It was new in 1973, but it is real old now.

I say, let's get it done, let's bring a first-class arena to Nassau County and to the region, and let's give people a place to live, work and play. New and long-time residents deserve such an area, and such an arena in which to show off the county with pride.

Heck, if they can build new arenas in Newark, New Jersey, and even propose one for Brooklyn, why can't they build one on Long Island?

Sure, the economy is not good right now, but by the time this thing would be completed--probably 10 years--things could change, and change for the better.

If people are worried about the project's scale, take it from me, having written about real estate, I know that developers always plan big, and can cut down a project on a whim. You ask for the moon, you get cheese, but the cheese is good, too.

Stop stalling and get this thing done!

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