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Nassau Coliseum Referendum Voted Down; Islanders Likely Gone

Updated at 7:20 a.m., Aug. 2, 2011

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Long Islanders have officially had their say on the future of Nassau Coliseum and the New York Islanders. It looks like they don't want either.

Voters hit the polls Monday and defeated a $400 million bond issue that would have funded a replacement for the 39-year-old Coliseum. The funds would have been used to construct a new hockey arena, minor league ballpark and convention space. Now that it has failed, it's believed Islanders owner Charles Wang will move the franchise out of the area once its lease is up in 2015.

The referendum failed 57 to 43 percent in what officials said was a very low turnout for the unusual midsummer election. Nassau County has roughly 900,000 registered voters.

In a publicity blitz, supporters said the project would create more than 3,000 jobs and bring in $14 million in revenue each year. But at the polls CBS 2's Emily Smith found registered voters who were questioning a government-funded projected when the county is already financially strapped.

"They say it is going to create jobs, but there are no facts really. It's like here's the money and all of these wonderful things," said Warren Marcus of Mineola.

Wang made no predictions about the future in brief comments before hockey fans and supporters at a gathering at the coliseum after the vote late Monday night.

"I'm disappointed, I'm heartbroken," the millionaire founder of software maker Computer Associates said. He promised the team would remain on Long Island until the lease expires.

Republican County Executive Edward Mangano insisted the new coliseum project would generate income to overcome any initial taxpayer investment, but he was clearly rebuffed. He also expressed disappointment with the outcome, but insisted he was not quitting on the idea of developing the 77-acre site, one of the most valuable undeveloped parcels of property in the county.

"This just opens up new doors," Mangano said.

Elections Commissioner William Biamonte said by early afternoon the turnout was about 5 percent of all registered voters. Making matters worse for evening voters were terrible storms and Long Island Rail Road delays. Turnout was extremely low with only about 100,000 voters expected to cast ballots; an election official said a typical November election attracts about three times that number.

Voter Christopher McNally questioned why the vote was held on the first day of August, instead of in November.

"Why are we holding this referendum of an important thing, on a summer day, on Monday. That is really a departure from the norm in this area," McNally said.

Listen: Charles Wang's interview with Boomer & Carton

Many business groups backed the move, saying it would have create much-needed jobs. Opponents don't see why the government -- already running north of a projected $100 million deficit -- would hike taxes to help fund the build.

"Is it perfect? There's no such thing as perfect right now, especially in the county," said Brian Rosenberg of the Long Island Restaurant Association. "But millions and millions of dollars in tax revenue will be lost if we sit back and keep debating."

Listen: Ed Mangano & Jay Jacobs with Boomer & Carton

Charles Wang Votes
Islanders owner Charles Wang votes on the proposed $400 million bond measure to fund construction of a new coliseum on Aug. 1, 2011. ( credit: Mona Rivera/1010 WINS)

County officials said the project would've cost $58 a year per homeowner. Supporters of the project suggested with revenue from sales, hotel and entertainment packages -- plus the creation of more than 1,000 jobs -- it would actually have cost the county much less.

Mangano said an independent budget review projected the risk, once all revenues were accounted for, to be $13.80 per average household.

Desmond Ryan, of the Association for a Better Long Island, was against the $400 million project and said earlier Monday he believed it was going to be a close vote.

"The Islander fans and the unions will be turning out in force but I think the already over-burdened tax payers of Nassau County are about to come forward and say 'enough is enough,'" Ryan said.

Rendering of Coliseum
(credit: Handout/New York Islanders)

Clifford Sondock of the Land Use Institute also took issue with the plan.

"Nassau County is effectively bankrupt," Sondock said. "They have too much debt. They can't pay their bills. So it flies in the face of logic for them going to borrow $400 million to build a stadium."

East Meadow resident Irwin Kahn was among those who said now's not the right time.

"I love hockey," Kahn said. "I don't want to pay for it," he added, referring to the bond issue.

Added Ed Marczewski: "I don't want to pay for it. Not just for me, I'm 62 years old. My kids and grandkids are going to have to pay this bill -- $400 million now; $800 million over 30 years."

Among those in favor of the project was Josephine Barbieri.

"My son from Boston called to tell me to get out and vote, and vote 'yes,'" Josephine Barbieri added. "Yes, I did so."

The referendum and postcards to notify of polling place changes will cost Nassau $2.2 million.

In the end, was the right decision made by the voters? Sound off in our comments section.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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