When it was announced back in August that former Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was handing over operations of Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum to one of his lenders, Florida financier Nick Mastroianni, one of the big questions was whether Mastroianni would agree to pay the millions of dollars in back rent that Prokhorov had been racking up since Prokhorov announced that he was shutting the arena down now that the New York Islanders were set to move out to play in their own new state-subsidized arena at Belmont Park. And the answer, Newsday now reveals, is that Nassau County wants to absolve Mastroianni of all rent payments until the Covid pandemic ends, and then another six months after that for good measure:
Nassau County has agreed to let the new leaseholder of Nassau Coliseum off the hook from paying rent until at least the summer in a deal that also guarantees that the Islanders can use the arena if needed during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The lease amendment, which requires approval by the Nassau County Legislature, calls for rent relief that continues until six months after the state lifts all restrictions on arena events…
“This extension coupled with the suspension of rent payments in recognition of the economic impact of the pandemic, will give Nassau and the HUB Team the opportunity to plan for the future, post-COVID, when the entertainment industry restarts,” [Nassau County Executive Laura] Curran said.
The current Coliseum rent is a little over $4 million a year, so the rent break will cost Nassau County maybe $5-6 million if arena events can resume at full capacity next spring or summer — plus an additional $2 million for the six months after that, when Long Islanders can again pack into the Coliseum to see Disney on Ice or whatever. That’s starting to run into some real money, even before you take into account that $6 million that New York state has promised toward arena renovations so that the Islanders can play one more lame-duck season at the Coliseum, before empty seats in all likelihood, if an NHL season even happens this winter.
One of the dilemmas of reporting on business subsidies during a public health crisis is drawing a line between legit economic stimulus and creating corporate windfalls for banks and Kanye West. Providing $8 million or so in rent rebates for an arena during a county budget deficit that could exceed $300 million, in exchange for exactly no promises about whether it will stay open or who will be employed there, does not seem like the best gamble; we’ll see what the Nassau County legislature says about it.