Forest City Ratner's Rebecca D'Eloia On The Barclays Center vs. The Nassau Coliseum
The redevelopment of the Nassau Coliseum is one of the biggest commercial real estate projects happening on Long Island these days. It's led by Forest City Ratner's Rebecca D'Eloia, a speaker at our Long Island State of the Market event on July 14. Rebecca spoke with us about the project and her take on how it compares to another sports arena you may have heard of, on which she also worked.
Bisnow: Can you tell our readers a little about how you came to work on the Nassau Coliseum project?
Rebecca: I’ve been with Forest City Ratner for over 11 years now. For most of that time, I worked on Pacific Park (formerly called Atlantic Yards), and on the Barclays Center, through every stage of its design and development, right through to the opening. After Barclays opened, the team was interested in expanding its development efforts on sports and entertainment facilities, because of the synergies with Barclays Center.
Bisnow: Was it kind of a seamless transition from one stadium project to the other?
Rebecca: You only get so many opportunities to open a ground-up arena in a major city. One example of how one led into the other was that we did a lot of research on who was coming to events at Barclays, and concert attendance was only about 10% from Long Island. And at the same time, the entertainment market in Long Island was really vibrant, but people are more likely to stay closer to home. We wanted to parlay what we learned from that into the Nassau Coliseum redevelopment.
Bisnow: What else was similar and different between the Coliseum project and the Barclays Center?
Rebecca: There are so many similarities and differences. Barclays was unique because it was ground-up. The Coliseum is in some ways more challenging because it’s existing. But I think what we learned at Barclays was that designing for the patron experience is really important. It’s important to invest in amazing architecture and great event programming. But you also need to do things like invest in the food service in a big way. At Barclays, we really made an effort to incorporate local food purveyors, and we’re looking into Long Island purveyors for the Coliseum. How you feel when you’re in the building and how the guest services folks treat you, the feel of the place, all of that determines whether you’re going to come back.
Bisnow: So, by way of some specifics, can you talk about the plan for the redesign of the Coliseum—and why it matters for Nassau County?
Rebecca: We see it as a major concert venue. It has a history of iconic shows, and we hope to re-set the bar to host major touring acts. We hope all of the biggest names in music will come here and the design reflects that. The Brooklyn Nets’ D-League team will also use it as a home court. In terms of the site itself, our project is the renovation of the 77-acre site and the surrounding plaza, including its entertainment and retail, all of which come to just under 200k SF.
The main objective is to modernize the coliseum. It hasn’t had a renovation since it opened in 1972. SHoP Architects has come up with a design that we think will be iconic. The curb appeal is going to be quite dramatically different than what you see now. We’re also taking out about 3,000 seats and totally revamping the interior, and upgrading all of the building systems. The new capacity will be at about 13,800. Previously, some of the seats were where site lines weren’t very good. We call it right-sizing. We recognize that capacity as more than adequate for the uses the facility will be used for.
Bisnow: The reduced seating now means the Islanders won’t be able to come back, though.
Rebecca: I wouldn’t say the capacity would be the reason the team moved on. I don’t think it’s quite that simple. There’s been a lot of discussion about that, I’m not sure the seat count is the end-all be-all for that.
Bisnow: So how will not having pro hockey impact the way the arena is used?
Rebecca: In some ways, not having a pro team helps your scheduling a lot. The league has dates and holds you need to keep. When you’re working with touring musical acts, it’s really nice not to have that. So in some ways, it’s good, that’s for sure. Beyond music, the rest of our programming is aiming to be really diverse. We’re looking into a theater curtaining system to cut down the size of the bowl, so that when you come in, instead of seeing the entire bowl, you’ll see 4,000 to 6,000 seats. That configuration might be used for smaller bands, and it’s a great experience because the space then doesn’t look empty. It’s a little bit more like a theater. We’ll also do a lot of family shows. The circus and ice shows. We’ll have a great NCAA program like we were able to build at Barclays, and the huge alumni base on Long Island should help that be successful.
Bisnow: Sounds like a lot going on. How do you make the economics work?
Rebecca: There are so many ways. Corporate sponsorships can play a big role. We’ve been talking to lots of Long Island companies and national companies about that. But also good design and good programming helps. You have to manage expenses, make sure your operation is multi-faceted. It’s not just tickets, it’s not food & beverage, it’s not just sponsorships. It’s all of it.
Bisnow: Is it easier to execute a project like this when you’ve got 77 acres to work with?
Rebecca: The thing about Barclays Center was that we spent a long time just trying to convince the city that it was the right thing to do at all. A lot of people thought it was crazy to put 18,000 seats there. We thought it was exactly right with transit connectivity, etc. This idea goes back to the Romans, the idea that you put an arena in the center of the city. In Nassau, it's different, certainly. I think people want to see the coliseum revitalized. Since most of the work has been going on inside, it’s been important to let the public know that yes, we are building! We’re using the same construction manager we used at Barclays. And yes, it’s nice to have a little more space. We have literally acres that we can spread out onto for construction logistics. In the city you’re kind of always on top of each other, you’re looking at lane closures, etc. Not when you have this much space.
Bisnow: Anything else you’d like to add?
Rebecca: The only other thing I’d say is that a lot of how we look at this project was informed by Bruce Ratner’s vision. He is very involved in the project and we are guided by his vision of it as an icon for Long Island. And with 2.8 million people, something like this is deserved: A premier concert venue, recognized around the world. It’s time.