EXCLUSIVE — Renaissance Downtowns CEO Donald Monti: “If Charles wants to stay here, I think we can help make it happen.”
In a phone conversation on Wednesday afternoon, Renaissance Downtowns CEO Donald Monti firmly stated that his intention in developing the Nassau County Hub property — the 77 acre property the Coliseum sits on — is to help retain the New York Islanders and establish an economic and technological center for the County. Monti is one of four Long Island developers who have submitted a Request for Qualifications to Nassau County, in the hopes of being selected to develop the Coliseum Hub.
“To be honest, there really is no other team but us,” Monti said regarding his support for keeping the Islanders on the Hub property. “I’m not saying this for self-serving reasons, I’m saying it because there’s nobody that cares about the Islanders staying that’s responded. When they say so publicly then they mean so even more privately.”
Monti also stressed the need to act now, in an effort to turn around the decades of stagnation that has hindered both the County Hub property, the Coliseum and the team.
“I go back to the four successive years that they won the Cup and at that time I was a season ticket holder. To me it would be an absolute shame for any area to lose a professional franchise. What’s going to keep the Islanders here is a positive momentum and we have to make sure that’s the message that resonates constantly. I think I’m the only respondent that’s committed to do that.”
Monti’s plan for the hub is two-fold and doesn’t simply involve the Coliseum property. His company, Renaissance Downtowns, has already been selected as the master developer for the largest development project ever on Long Island — the Village of Hempstead downtown revitalization project. At a cost of $2 billion, the project will build 3,500 residential units, two million square feet of commercial and retail space, and establish a modern downtown in Hempstead. It’s main focus is on the 90 acres surrounding the Hempstead train station and bus terminal.
If Renaissance Downtowns is selected as master developer for the Coliseum Hub Property, Monti’s grand vision is to have the two projects — the Coliseum Hub and Downtown Hempstead — feed off of each other.
“The synergies between the two projects are just unbelievable,” Monti said. “There is only 8/10ths of a mile separating them so the financial challenges that come from a standalone project can be mitigated… When you have a common developer for both projects.”
Monti’s vision for the Hub Property is not retail and residential based, as was the case with the Lighthouse Project. His vision for the Hub is based around two major components; sports and entertainment facilities alongside high-tech research and development facilities. The thinking is that the millenial generation, in their mid-to-late twenties or early thirties, could live and shop in Downtown Hempstead while working in the new facilities at the Coliseum Hub.
“It’s the beginning of something I believe is going to be the turnaround and the transformative project that everyone [on Long Island] is waiting for,” said Monti. “Many of the millennials that are thinking of getting the heck out of here are gonna think twice when they say ‘wow, look at what they’re doing in Hempstead and if they can do that in Huntington Station and other downtowns across Long Island — I’m staying.'”
Another of Monti’s downtown revitalization projects is a 6-square mile space in Huntington Station where Renaissance Downtowns has also been named the master developer.
As for what he would do in regards to the Coliseum itself, Monti was certain that a renovated arena does not make sense.
“I don’t see a renovation working,” he responded when asked whether he envisioned a new arena or a renovation. “There are a couple reasons; logistical reasons, you never get exactly what you want when you renovate, and in many cases you spend more. That’s not going to be my call, that’s going to be Charles’ call. But from my vantage point, new is the way to go.”
While the County selects a master developer, Renaissance Downtowns and Monti have not had any contact with the Islanders’ Charles Wang or Michael Picker.
“There are so many things that we need to sit down quickly on with Charles and Mike Picker,” Monti responded. “But that’s the way we work. We’re a very nimble organization. We get things done like nobody does. If Charles wants to stay here, I think we can help make it happen.”
And how does that happen, what with the infamous Town of Hempstead zoning rules and time ticking down?
“We feel that’s a zoning envelope — considering what we’re doing in the village — that can certainly work,” said Renaissance’s Vice President of Marketing and Public Affairs Brandon Palanker. Palanker is confident his group’s plans won’t test the Town of Hempstead’s zoning regulations. “If you’re trying to do it as an absolute standalone it becomes more difficult but that’s not our position because we have those complementary uses less than a mile away in the village hub.”
Monti and Palanker have yet to hear anything from the County regarding the success or failure of their Request for Qualifications submission. Hypothetically, if his company was awarded master developer for the property today, Monti believes he could start construction in the spring of 2013 with a total project time of 30 months from start to finish.
Nassau County has yet to select a master developer for the Coliseum Hub and time is of the essence as the Islanders lease expires in 2015. Owner Charles Wang has said he will not keep the team there past 2015 if the Coliseum remains in its current condition.
“Certainly Brooklyn beats Kansas City,” Monti said when the subject of the Islanders moving in 2015 was broached. “But there’s something that tells me if Brooklyn could have been done, it would have been done.”
With a few projects already in the works, Monti and his company are working hard on revitalizing Long Island’s downtowns. When it comes to the Coliseum Hub, Monti believes that Islander Country can be an integral part of the process and help find a solution.
“We need to turn [the Hub] around starting now,” he insisted. “I think that the Islander fan base can be a catalyst for helping the County to make a quick but thorough decision.”