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With fanfare, Nassau Coliseum makes its debut


Outside, it may have been drizzly and cold, but inside, spirits were high on March 31, as politicians and business executives cut the ribbon on the new NYCB Live Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. Billy Joel was set to officially open the arena — which underwent a 16-month-long, $165 million remodeling funded by Forest City Ratner Companies — on Wednesday, after press time.

Members of the media thronged the Coliseum and its environs for a morning and afternoon of news conferences and tours of the 416,000-square-foot structure, which now glimmers in the middle of Nassau’s Hub, the academic and shopping district at the heart of the county.

“Our goal was to create a space that reflected the tremendous sense of place that permeates Long Island, from the look of the building to the taste of the food,” said Bruce Ratner, executive chairman of Forest City Ratner. “Our talented architectural and development teams have succeeded beyond our dreams, creating a venue that is visually striking and wonderfully comfortable.”

Some 4,700 brushed aluminum fins encase the building, creating the sense of waves rolling onto a beach, or, as officials said, “a subtle flow that reflects the big skies of the flat Long Island landscape.” The fins can be lighted up in an array of colors at night. The architecture firm SHoP Architects designed the exterior, and Gensler, the interior.

East Meadow Chamber of Commerce President Frank Camarano said that throughout the years he has visited the Coliseum, he did not expect it to become as upgraded as it is. He, along with several members of the chamber, toured the building and commented about the likely rise in revenue for local businesses.

“In the past, from what I’ve seen, whenever there were any type of shows, local restaurants flourished with business because many Coliseum-goers would go out to eat or drink after shows,” Camarano said.

Frank Borelli, owner of Borelli’s Italian Restaurant, said that many of his customers came from the Coliseum after events. When the arena’s future was in doubt, he said he feared for his business, but the community has rallied around the restaurant to keep it afloat.

“We depended on birthday parties and regular customers,” Borelli said. “Hopefully now, the Coliseum will help us out and put us over the top.”

As for Camarano, he said the Coliseum has been integral to the success of his family-owned gym in East Meadow, World Gym. “It all started when John Cena came in to my gym to work out,” he recalled, referring to the WWE star. “He told me, ‘Frank, I love your gym. I’m telling everyone about it.’ Surely enough, more and more wrestlers — the girls too — came to my gym to train. They were as nice as could be. I hope they come again when they’re in town. They put the gym on the map.”

The ribbon cutting put an end to a decade and a half of wonder and concern among Nassau residents about what would become of the Coliseum. Opened in 1972, it had fallen into disrepair over the decades. County officials complained that it was hard to attract A-list acts because of the structure’s deteriorated state. Many even questioned whether there would be a Coliseum in the future.

The renovated arena, however, now shows no signs of its recent history as glass storefront windows have replaced walls to allow natural light into the concourse. The main entrance no longer has the Islanders store; it has been replaced with the Blue Moon bar and high top tables. The new, padded seats will be able to host up to 16,000 guests for concerts and as little as few 4,000 for theatre performances.

Performers, meanwhile, can enjoy the accommodations of the Artists Quarters, which include residential-style suites, a “wellness room” and fitness center, an artist’s living room and a promoter’s lounge. Rooms are equipped with fireplaces, and artists have a choice between two furnishing themes: Manhattan modern or Hamptons chic. The four dressing rooms can link together for performers who prefer to occupy all of them.

Big-name acts now scheduled to appear at the Coliseum in the coming months include Stevie Nicks (April 6), Marc Anthony (April 9), Barbra Streisand (May 4), Metallica (May 17), The Weekend (June 3) and Bruno Mars (Oct. 5).

Additionally, the Coliseum houses special locker rooms for the Brooklyn Nets’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. The expansive space boast a lounge, and can be connected or closed off to house separate sports teams.

“I hope the Islanders will one day be able to occupy these locker rooms,” said Norma Gonsalves, the County Legislature’s presiding officer, a Republican from East Meadow. “There is nothing I want more than for our team to return home.”

About 1,500 people have been hired to work at the Coliseum, and were trained at the Disney Institute, the business advisory arm of the Walt Disney Company, to provide best hospitality industry practices for event attendees, officials said.

Ground was broken on the Coliseum project in November 2015. “It was remarkable to drive by every day and watch the renovation done to this building,” Gonsalves said. “I’m proud of the union labor who worked tirelessly year-round to turn this building into the wondrous facility it is today.”

A formal dedication of the venue’s new memorial will be held on April 8 to honor the veterans who have served the nation.