"What does the future of the suburbs look like?”
That was the question pondered by Rebecca D’Eloia, RXR Realty’s vice president for development and the project manager overseeing transformation of the Nassau County Hub, last Friday afternoon.
She was speaking before an audience of more than 1,000 people at the nonprofit Vision Long Island’s Smart Growth Summit, and all of them were eager to hear her answer. If RXR and its partner, BSE Global, succeed in remaking the Hub — the 72 acres surrounding Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum — it will look very different than it does now, D’Eloia made clear.
She outlined plans for a massive $1.5 billion project that would create a new mixed-use neighborhood with three distinct areas — a Sports and Entertainment District, an Innovation District and a Town Center. D’Eloia’s presentation was at once informational and uplifting. It gave us the sense that the acres of asphalt that now lie idle most of the time, except for the few hours during a game or event at the Coliseum, will at long last be put to good use and help propel the county forward.
For decades, that blacktop wasteland has stood as a symbol of government inaction. In the mid-2000s, then Islanders owner Charles Wang proposed construction of the Lighthouse project, a mixed-used community that included retail shops, housing, a renovated Coliseum and a 60-story tower shaped like — you guessed it — a lighthouse.
The $3.75 billion project was expected to take a decade to build, generate $71 million in annual tax revenue and create 19,000 permanent jobs. It never happened, however. Nassau, under then County Executive Thomas Suozzi, appeared to be on board, but the Town of Hempstead could never quite make up its mind on whether to approve the project, and so it went nowhere.
Ensuring that the RXR-BSE project will succeed will require more than sound planning. It will require political will on the part of, among others, Hempstead’s new Republican supervisor, Donald X. Clavin. The town, which controls zoning in the Hub, must review any proposed plans before construction can begin.
County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, has spearheaded an effort to bring the project to fruition. She has lent her support to it — even helped shape it — from the moment she took office nearly two years ago. Her strong leadership brings us hope.
There was great hope in Laura Gillen, the outgoing Democratic town supervisor, as well. Gillen had allied herself with Curran from the time they campaigned together in 2017, and it was expected that Gillen would throw her support behind the RXR-BSE plan to help ensure that it passed muster.
But Clavin defeated Gillen in November, returning the town to Republican control. The question is, what happens now?
At the time of the Lighthouse proposal in the mid-2000s, the town was under GOP control, and town officials let the project, which would have been complete by now, slip away.
Hempstead Republican leaders, sadly, played politics with Wang’s multi-billion-dollar project, using their control over it as a blunt-force instrument to knock Suozzi down by a peg or three. Such shenanigans can never again be allowed. They were the very reason the Islanders were eventually forced to leave Long Island for Brooklyn.
Clavin cannot — must not — allow another transformational project to go unfulfilled at the Hub. This is about the future of Nassau County.
Here we must note there are promising signs. The new supervisor has included Hub developers on his transition team. And in a phone interview with the Herald Monday, he pledged to work with Curran on the project, saying, “Everyone wants success for this region . . . I recognize the importance of success with the Hub.”
During election-season interviews with the Herald, Clavin made clear that he would be his own person, reaching decisions independently from his party. So far, so good.
Now he must reach out to Curran — and vice versa — in a bipartisan effort to pass the RXR-BSE proposal. If there are concerns, they mustn’t allow them to linger for long. The people of Nassau must come first this time. If Clavin can set aside his party’s desire to defeat Curran at the polls, he could go down as one of Hempstead’s truly great supervisors, and Curran as one of the great executives.
So, what does the future of the suburbs look like? That question is to be determined by the government leaders who will ultimately decide. Their political calculations will bring either progress or stagnation. The latter is unacceptable.