Wang needs to get homeowners on his side
BY DESMOND RYAN
Desmond Ryan is executive director of the Association for a Better
Long Island, a Hauppauge-based developers' group.
October 5, 2004
As one who left the world of Computer Associates with his reputation
and fortune intact, Charles Wang has learned that success in life
depends, in large part, on timing. So his decision to tackle the
expanse of underutilized asphalt surrounding the Nassau Veterans
Memorial Coliseum erupts at exactly the right time, given that Nassau
County needs an economic shot in the arm.
Yet it won't be countywide politicians who will ultimately decide the
fate of the 60-story city-in-the-sky. It will be the men and women
Wang doesn't know and doesn't see. These invisible "power brokers"
are the mostly Republican homeowners who live in the myriad
communities inside Hempstead Town where median incomes wouldn't come
close to what Wang spends on property taxes for his Oyster Bay Cove
compound. These are the people who would live in the shadow of Wang's
60-floor proposal, unable to afford its sky views and largely
untouched by its economic impact.
This proposal will rise or fall at Hempstead Town Hall, where
Supervisor Kate Murray and her board will have to decide the zoning
for "Wang's World," and she will be listening very closely to what
her constituents have to say. As a result, the Wang colossus will
need to be a lot less patrician and a lot more practical for voters
from Levittown to Franklin Square to embrace it, to say nothing of
East Meadow and Garden City, communities far closer to the
Wang could take a page from the late retailing legend, Alan
Fortunoff. When he wanted to build his mall in Westbury, he and his
son, Louis, met with neighbors in their backyards and dens, creating
a coalition that got his project built. One cannot imagine the Wang
team having the stomach for that kind of grassroots, "coffee-klatch"
strategy. But it may be an acquired taste Wang will have to learn.
Moving forward, Wang will have to address the obvious question of
whether 60 stories is real or some architectural Trojan Horse. If
genuine, does it destroy the town's master plan for Mitchel Field?
Will it require town officials to tear up their regulations to
accommodate Wang's skyscraper? If it is a disingenuous proposal
designed to go away as a sign of "compromise," that kind of cynicism
creates an ethical breach before the proposal is even submitted.
If we preserve the idea of Wang's 60-story lighthouse, office
building, condo and restaurant zone, we are faced with the question
of how to move people to and from this structure. A similar-sized
building, Citibank in Queens, sits atop a major subway station near
the 59th Street Bridge. Could the Wang skyscraper be the genesis of a
new multimillion-dollar mass transit complex? And if we fail to
create mass transit, does the whole Coliseum redevelopment effort
choke on its own density?
Finally, does a 60-story spire create such a dominating presence that
the neighboring destinations crucial to the lifeblood of the central
county corridor become irrelevant?
To understand the complexities of such a development, Wang may want
to read the comments of Disney's Michael Eisner, who recently spoke
to the Association for a Better New York. Referring to his role in
instigating the economic renaissance of Times Square, he commented
that he never lost sight of the fact that Disney could only act as a
spark and not be the sole engine of change. He observed that by
working with others, as opposed to dominating 42nd Street, they all
strengthened the historic energy of Times Square as a family
destination. The lesson for Long Island may be that, if Wang wants to
create a New York City skyscraper, he should take lessons from those
who play in that league.