Newly renovated Nassau Coliseum dies of arena glut, after short illness

So this happened, or is happening, or is reported to be happening based on “people familiar with the matter”:

The Nassau Coliseum, the Long Island arena that hosted professional hockey games and rock concerts, is turning off the lights.

Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment, which operates the arena under a lease from Nassau County, is planning to shutter the venue indefinitely while it seeks investors to take over operations and pick up the remaining debt on the building, according to people familiar with the matter.

Onexim has told potential investors that it would turn over the lease in return for assuming roughly $100 million in loans on the property, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. The firm, which is laying off arena employees, could also surrender the lease to its lenders, the person said.

Onexim released a statement saying that the Coliseum’s value “will be best realized by other parties” and blaming the Covid pandemic for the move, but the Coliiseum has other, much bigger problems: It just underwent a $180 million renovation to modernize it so it could compete with other New York–area venues for concerts, then saw a whole new arena start construction at nearby Belmont Park. The last time something similar to this happened, it was Newark opening the Prudential Center just down the turnpike from the Meadowlands Arena (or whatever it was called right then), which resulted in the latter arena closing and turning into a state-subsidized movie soundstage, because there really aren’t enough events to go around in the tristate area to fill five arenas. Prokhorov clearly saw the writing on the wall then — he put the arena up for sale right after the Islanders arena was approved — so declaring Operation Shutdown is the next logical step, even if maybe loudly declaring that your arena can’t make any money is not the absolute best way to find buyers for it.

The immediate impact, of course, is that the New York Islanders now have nowhere to play (once having a place for sports teams to play becomes a thing again), as the team had only just announced earlier this year that it would be playing the 2020-21 season in Nassau after giving up on Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. (Okay, also it may mess with this summer’s planned drive-in movies in the arena parking lot, but I’m guessing somewhat fewer people will be concerned about that.) Newsday speculates that the team would have no choice but to return to Brooklyn for a season if the Coliseum remains shuttered once the next NHL season starts up sometime next winter, because its old lease says it has to play games at either the Coliseum or Barclays, but it will likely take lawyers with a fine-tooth comb to determine what that means if Nassau remains padlocked. Not that the Islanders would have many other options, though I suppose if pandemic-related bans on fans are still in effect come January 2021, they could always play at some college rink or in Iceland or something.

While the pandemic didn’t create venue glut, it certainly seems to be forcing some hard reckonings with it: The Rose Bowl is also reportedly trying to figure out how to stay afloat amid tons of other Los Angeles–area stadium options, with everything on the table from adding miniature golf to shutting down entirely, though the latter would be a last resort. (The Rose Bowl is also getting $11.5 million in emergency cash from its owner, the city of Pasadena, which is not going to help with Pasadena’s massive schools budget gap.) There’s been an awful lot of blinkered optimism about letting a thousand sports venues bloom and crossing fingers there’ll be enough events to go around; that was never going to work, and the pandemic is quickly making clear that the resulting shakeout is likely to hit the oldest venues the hardest, even if they’ve been recently renovated. Score one for the investors who rolled the dice on building the new Belmont Park arena, I guess, since they’re effectively grabbing a slice of a limited market by driving a competitor out of business — though New York state might want to revisit its economic impact projections for the public money it’s pouring into the Belmont site, now that it turns out it’s just likely to end up replacing one Nassau County arena with a shinier one.

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17 comments on “Newly renovated Nassau Coliseum dies of arena glut, after short illness

  1. Onexim didn’t have the benefit of any legal proceedings to fall back on, unlike MSG nabbing $400 million for the Forum to make lawsuits go away.

    Pasadena chose not to permit the NFL to use the Rose Bowl (even temporarily). There’s limited use for a 100k seating capacity venue with little luxury amenities. To their credit, the Rose Bowl has UCLA locked in to a long term lease preventing them moving to Inglewood.

  2. I know they’ll probably move back to the Barclays Center but part of me hopes the LI Nets somehow end up at Stony Brook University’s arena. Would be easier for me to get to than the Coliseum ever was.

  3. Columbus (OH) has a similar problem which you’ve covered. How nice of Franklin County to suddenly decide they wanted to get into the arena business.

    I never understood why they wanted to build an arena at Belmont. The highway access is already over capacity and you’ve covered the non-Euclidean geometry which will be required for LIRR access. I thought they should have, as part of the NCC renovation, restarted Central Branch service with stops at NCC and the Coliseum. The NCC stop would get use year-round justifying the cost. But moving the Cross Bronx to 174th st made sense as well and that didn’t happen either.

    And yet, all these stadia but NYCFC is still “homeless”.

    1. Sorry – I mixed my NCCs. The stop at Nassau Community College would justify the spur to the Nassau Veterans {your name here} Memorial Coliseum

    2. I think the answer to why build an arena at Belmont is covered in the above post: It’s a way for the Islanders’ investors to grab a spot at the limited table for arena operations in the NYC area. Yeah, it might have been cheaper to just buy the Coliseum instead, but then you’d have to risk some other competitor building at Belmont and squeezing you out like is now being done to Prokhorov.

      Also, Belmont made Billy Joel and Andrew Cuomo happy, so that was an opportunity too good to pass up.

      1. I do not know why the Islanders did not choose to buy the Coliseum ( it may have not been for sale?). But whatever happens, it will only be for one year. It could be Brooklyn, Bridgeport or maybe Prokhorov, can be playing hardball to get more money from the Islanders and they will be at the Coliseum. But at least the days of them wandering like Gypsies is coming to an end.

  4. The Islanders could play at Iceland. There’s a skating rink called Iceland not too far from the Coliseum. Seats about 100.

    1. Considering the restrictions for social distancing in the 2020-21 season, 100 seats might be too many.

  5. Being “limited” to playing at Barclays or the NVMC presented by Onexim when neither are really available to the team is pretty much a textbook case of force majeure. If the tenant is required to play at one of two named venues, then both of the named venues have to be available for them to play in (subject to scheduling and other concerns).

    Not really any different than someone renting you a condo that is not built and expecting you to pay rent on the non existent condo… the tenant only has to pay (or in this case play) if the venue is available and suitable for habitation.

    That said, for those of us who have been waiting for someone to tell a professional sports business to ‘go play in the street’, this is a tremendous moment. Too bad it was a private business and not a municipal entity, but still.

    My level of interest in hockey is such that I don’t even know whether the Islanders are one of the teams allegedly “making” the playoffs this year (if there is a this year), so I’m not sure how crucial this is right now. I assume Bettman did NOT make the NVMC one of the hub destinations the NHL is considering for it’s hottest month of the year plan to play a winter sport in front of no fans solely to satisfy minimum television contract requirements.

    1. The Islanders as the 7seed are in what’s being called the 2020 Stanley Cup playoff round. So they “made” the playoffs.

  6. As I indicated in previous replies the money spent to renovate the Coliseum was a waste of money by B. Ratner.

    The money would have been better spent upgrading the Barclay’s Center by fixing the lower bowl to allow for unobstructed sight lines for hockey.
    Would probably have cost less (approximately $100 million dollars) than the Coliseum renovation.

    Onexim really had no choice but to surrender the lease since no one would assume the debt service on the Coliseum with the Belmont Arena under construction.

    Will New York State now take over operation of the building temporarily (through the ESDC) until the Belmont arena opens?

    I am sure both the Islanders ownership and the NHL would prefer to play in Brooklyn for the 2020-2021 season as luxury box revenue can be realized if social distancing is allowed for NHL games next season even with a maximum 50% capacity.

    As I had also previously indicated, the Coliseum should be converted into a convention center (like the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City) as part of the Hub redevelopment.

    Stay tuned!

    1. You can’t “fix” the Barclays Center lower bowl to have hockey site lines. That die was cast when the Gehry design was ditched.

  7. I get the Islanders have a good TV deal but I can’t help but think overall they would have been better off leaving NY. They had to know there wasn’t going to be enough business for another arena on Long Island

    1. Some of us are actually Islanders fans. I grew up less then a mile from the Coliseum, and I only have two professional sports teams I like. The Islanders and Yankees. I do not want to lose them.

  8. The Rose Bowl situation is painful. Compare it to the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, which the government recognizes as a public treasure and has been modernized multiple times since it opened.

    We waste so much money on public transportation and teachers unions in California. $30 million/year or so to keep the Rose Bowl in the upper echelon of sports venues would barely make a ripple in the state budget.

    1. “We waste so much money on public transportation and teachers unions in California. $30 million/year or so to keep the Rose Bowl in the upper echelon of sports venues would barely make a ripple in the state budget.”

      Holy god, are you new here?

      1. “The Rose Bowl situation is painful. Compare it to the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, which the government recognizes as a public treasure and has been modernized multiple times since it opened.
        We waste so much money on public transportation and teachers unions in California. $30 million/year or so to keep the Rose Bowl in the upper echelon of sports venues would barely make a ripple in the state budget.”

        With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this post was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This post is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its energy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. “Oh, My God!”—that’s all you can say.

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