EXCLUSIVE: County Executive Blakeman says ‘it would be difficult to keep Nassau Coliseum in its present form’

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Nassau Coliseum Islanders Bruce Blakeman
(AP Photo/Steven Ryan)

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman told amNewYork in an exclusive interview Thursday that it would be “difficult” to keep the Nassau Coliseum — the former home of the New York Islanders — “in its present form.”

The Coliseum, which sits on 77 acres of valuable Nassau County-owned land, has remained largely dormant since the NHL franchise departed for UBS Arena at the Nassau/Queens border in Elmont following the 2021 season, playing host to the NBA G-League’s Long Island Nets, the New York Riptide of the National Lacrosse League, and the occasional concert.

Per the venue’s official website, its next scheduled event is not until October 1. This after undergoing a $165 million facelift beginning in 2015 that updated the exterior and concourse of the building, but downsized it to under 14,000 seats, making it impossible to be a long-term option for the Islanders after a short-lived and unsuccessful move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

“We are very mindful that the Coliseum is dark more than it’s not,” Blakeman said. “And that they have tremendous competition, especially coming from UBS Arena, and that they might have to look at a different model.

“Whether the Coliseum survives is still in question but again, we’re open-minded.”

The 77 acres of land on Hempstead Turnpike right next to Hofstra University is prime real estate in central Nassau County, which is easily accessible from the Meadowbrook Parkway and just a stone’s throw away from Garden City and the Mineola train station.

An overhead view of the land that Nassau Coliseum is built on. (Wikimedia Commons)

Blakeman, who is in the first year of his term as county executive, and his administration are having ongoing conversations about the Nassau Hub with site developer Scott Rechler and Coliseum building operator Nick Mastroianni. He admitted that there are “some plans” on the table that are being reviewed. 

He added to amNewYork that his office received interest from a ”variety of different types of businesses” about setting up shop on the Coliseum property. 

“I think we’re getting close to coming up with a final plan but I’m not in a rush to make a decision at the exclusion of looking at options that may have not been considered before,” Blakeman said. “Basically, let’s just say there’s a lot of interest there from a lot of different corners.”

Rechler, who is the chief executive with RXR Realty, has spent a better part of the past two decades trying to transform the property. Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment shuttering of the Coliseum in 2020 eventually led to Mastroianni taking over the lease. 

Blakeman hinted that there will still be an athletic presence at the Nassau Hub regardless of how the land is redeveloped, hinting that there will be an announcement in “the next couple weeks” about a partnership between Nassau County and the Long Island Nets — the minor-league affiliate of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. 

There also came the acknowledgment that the county has not done enough to help make the Coliseum’s current tenants as successful as they could be. The county and Long Island Nets held a two-hour meeting on Wednesday. 

“I’m very happy to have an NBA G-League team here and I think that we’ve missed opportunities to help them more. Because helping them helps us,” he said. 

Bruce Blakeman
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman. (Photo courtesy of Nassau County Executive’s office)

The County has also expressed an interest in getting a minor-league hockey team back in the area, though that decision will ultimately be swayed by Mastroianni. 

“We don’t get that deep into the weeds but let’s say if there was a team that was interested and they wanted to take our temperature as to how welcoming we’d be, I’d say we’d be very welcome,” Blakeman said. “Anything we could do to help would make it a better project. I would definitely keep an open mind with that.”

The Islanders’ top minor-league affiliate, the Bridgeport Islanders, are firmly entrenched in Connecticut, and it is believed the New York Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, still has time on its lease at the XL Center.

Hockey had been part of the original plan for the Nassau Coliseum renovations after the Islanders departed in 2015, with former Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner even suggesting that the Bridgeport minor-league organization would move to Long Island. That never occurred. 

The Coliseum site has been back in the news following an editorial by Newsday suggesting that the arena should be torn down as part of the decades-long effort to redevelop the property. 

Nassau Coliseum has faced growing competition for events from nearby UBS Arena, which the county executive acknowledge during the nearly 10-minute conversation with amNewYork, as well as Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. The COVID-19 pandemic was also a blow for business to the Long Island venue. 

They’ve gotten two pretty big punches,” Blakeman said. 

When asked directly about the Newsday editorial and whether there has been any consideration to tear the Coliseum down, Blakeman was momentarily blunt.

“I think personally, it would be difficult to keep the Coliseum in its present form,” he said before reverting to a more political answer.  “But I’m open to all ideas and all suggestions and the developers are talking about alternative use. 

“It’s not like something we’re forcing upon them. They’re coming to us saying and saying look, we may have to do something — a smaller venue with different business components. So I think my answer is I’m completely open-minded. 

“I’ve said the only two things that I want at the Coliseum is something that’s special and something that lifts the economy of the region.”

For more Islanders and Nassau Coliseum updates, visit AMNY.com