Inside the Nassau Coliseum's $130 Million Makeover: Fewer Seats, More Retail, New Name

Courtesy Photo
Nassau Coliseum

As Long Island native Billy Joel preps to play the final show at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., tonight, developers are teed up to break ground on a $130 million renovation to the 43 year-old arena. Groundbreaking will take place later this month, with the arena expected to re-open in December, 2016.

Tonight's show, Joel's 32nd at Nassau Coliseum, will be his first solo performance at the venue since 1998, when he sold out nine shows. Joel's drawing power in the market is remarkable, given his performance on Long Island comes in the midst of his ongoing "franchise" monthly residency at Madison Square Garden in New York, which will produce its 20th sellout on Aug. 28. Tickets for Joel's Nassau show went on sale May 1, and sold out in less than five minutes.

Billy Joel To Close Out Nassau Coliseum in August

The new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and its adjacent retail and entertainment destination are being developed by Nassau Events Center (NEC), led by Bruce Ratner, developer of Barclays Center, and Brett Yormark, Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets CEO. Ratner's group won the bid for the redevelopment of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum after a hotly contested bidding war, beating out a partnership led by the Madison Square Garden Company, among other bidders. Ratner's bid calls for downsizing the arena from its current capacity of about 18,000 to around 13,000, with a theater configuration of 4,000-8,000 in the lower bowl.

So what has the team been up two in the two years since winning the bid? "There has been a lot of planning, both on the retail and venue sides, a lot of strategy that's been defined, both architecturally and from a programming perspective," Yormark tells Billboard. "Our goal is to create synergies between what's going on in Brooklyn and Long Island, not only based on the look and feel of the building and how it behaves, but also how we book it."

Tonight's show is presented by Ratner and Nassau Events Center, the entity that will be renovating and operating the venue, which they project will attract more than 1.2 million people per year. "Billy was the only choice," Yormark says. "He is 'Mr. Long Island,' so it makes all the sense in the world for him to close the venue. I know Billy's excited, there should be some special guests, and tickets are tough to come by, so it should make for an exciting night."

The entire Nassau project, which includes an expansive 400,000 square-foot footprint of retail, dining, and entertainment projected to draw an additional 700,000 -- 800,000 patrons to the site, will come in at $260.5 million. Yormark will lead the day-to-day operations for all facets of the Nassau Coliseum, including marketing, programming, sponsorship sales, and patron experience.

Yormark promises, "a re-created, re-imagined venue that will be state-of-the-art in every way, shape and form," calling the project, "great not only for the industry, but also for Long Island. We're anxious to get started, and [tonight] is the first step."

Yormark, who brokered the 20-year deal worth a reported $400 million between London-based financial group Barclays and the new Brooklyn arena, says he hopes to complete a naming rights deal for the Long Island project by the end of the month. "The whole sponsorship profile and program is something that has been taking up a lot of our time," he says, "and I feel very confident that by the end of the month we'll have a naming rights partner."

But, rather than simply a naming rights deal for the just the arena, as at Barclays Center, Yormark points out that, "we're putting a naming rights partner on the whole project, a very different approach. [The Nassau Coliseum development] is on 77 acres, that's a big footprint, with retail and the venue, and when you can brand the whole thing, that creates a lot of value for your partner."  

Yormark says feedback on the renovation and adjacent development has been positive, both from the industry and residents of Long Island. "They've waited a long time for this," he says. "There have been lots of starts and stops and, thankfully, we're about to embark on what should be an incredible platform for Long Island. We have a great track record based on what we've been able to accomplish in Brooklyn, and our goal is to do everything we've done in Brooklyn in Long Island."

As in Brooklyn, the programming mix at Nassau will be "very diversified," Yormark say. "You'll have a lot of college sports, and family shows and music, and all forms of entertainment, and minor league sports there, also."

Yormark adds that the new building's lack of an NBA or NHL franchise (the NHL's Islanders will relocate to Barclays) will provide more open dates for concerts and other events. "It will be very busy building, and it will be a building that will provide a lot of flexibility because we won't have an NBA or NHL team," he says. "Whether it's pursuing residencies or artists that want to be there more than just one night, we won't have the pressure of some of these in-and-out performances that you typically find in some of the big market venues."

The Barclays Center team will be aggressive on the talent acquisition front, announcing the opening of a new L.A. office last month. "We have already started to pre-market the venue," Yormarks says, "letting managers and agents know what our plans are. and what the look and feel and flavor of the venue will be. It's going to be very artist-friendly, we'll try to redefine the artist experience in lots of different ways."

As at Barclays Center, employees at the renovated Coliseum will be trained by Disney Institute, and operators are extending the Levy's partnership with Barclays Center out to Long Island, where Levy's will partner on food and beverage, which developers say will featured currated local food vendors with a "Taste of Long Island" strategy.

Asked if Billy Joel would perform to re-open the Nassau Coliseum in December of 2016, Yormark answers, "We haven't had that conversation yet, but obviously you want someone with Long Island ties. Look at what we did with Jay Z [a native Brooklynite who opened Barclays Center in September of 2012), he was from Brooklyn, it made sense for him to do it. We haven't gotten there yet [with Nassau Coliseum], we're focused on [tonight's show], then we'll start thinking about what that first month will look like when we re-open."