Wires hang from the ceiling, plastic covers the walls and giant cranes dominate the main floor; sparks fall from the rafters, while the hallways connecting the building’s underbelly are stripped down, with only the occasional hint of the royal blue and orange of its former NHL tenant remaining on the cinder blocks. Nine months after the ground was broken on a $260 million renovation of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and its surrounding retail and entertainment areas, in November 2015, the building is very much still a construction zone. But as the transformation of the 77 acre site and its historic 44-year-old venue edges closer to its spring 2017 re-opening, its new interior skeleton is starting to take shape.
The Coliseum’s new look, which will cost an estimated $130 million for the venue alone, is being developed by Forest City Ratner founder and Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner. The Coliseum will be run by Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment (BSE) CEO Brett Yormark, who also oversees Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets and the business operations of the New York Islanders. Ratner and company won a contested bidding process to develop the site three years ago, and produced its final concert — a Billy Joel show, fittingly — a year ago yesterday, Aug. 4, 2015. The project is majority owned by Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of Barclays Center and the Nets, through his investment company, Onexim Sports and Entertainment. Ratner has a minority stake.
Now, the building is completely stripped out and its much-discussed new look, with its interior renovation helmed by Gensler and exterior by Barclays Center architect SHoP, is more of an outline. Among its big features are a wide, expansive entrance — similar to Barclays — that will include a beer garden just inside the front doors; a large, open lower level with a VIP club, a convention space and central concessions area; an outdoor memorial plaza that can be used for events and community-based festivals; and the removal of hundreds of seats that had been added in later years to re-introduce a walkway around the interior of the bowl.
And one of its signature aspects — for talent, at least — will be the Artist Quarters, which includes a set of four interconnected and interchangeable 500 square foot rooms, an artist living room, separate production and management areas and amenities that include a fitness center and wellness room, designed to maximize comfort for the talent that will come through the building.
“For some reason, when buildings are designed, the artist area has almost become an afterthought,” Keith Sheldon, BSE’s svp of programming, told Billboard during a recent walk-through of the Coliseum. “And for us, we wanted to make those artist areas front and center of the design process. Knowing Long Island is a market in and of its own right, but also recognizing that maybe some people don’t realize that, we thought to ourselves, ‘How do we make the artist be the one to say, ‘I want to play that building versus any other’?'”
That meant soliciting recommendations from Republic Records president Charlie Walk, who co-chairs BSE’s advisory board with Yormark, to crowd source his artists’ biggest frustrations with venue accommodations. Those recommendations included “he flexibility with the rooms, providing some rooms to artist management and their team, keeping some segregation between the different spaces,” Sheldon said. “But really, it all came down to creating this sanctuary for the artist where they could go shut down and have some space to themselves.”
Those accommodations will also include a helicopter service to and from Manhattan for artists, helping them avoid the congestion of highways and public transportation. Which raises another point: one of the most-trumpeted features of the Barclays Center’s grand opening in 2012 was its status as a transportation hub within Brooklyn, encompassing nine NYC subway lines and the LIRR. But while that’s a key component of Barclays’ urban location, Sheldon doesn’t see public transportation from New York City being an issue.
“Our focus is really in catering to that Long Island community,” he said. “It’s a driver’s community, and a community that’s really craving entertainment in its own right. It’s a 3.2 million population out in Long Island that doesn’t necessarily want to get in their cars and have to travel to Brooklyn or Manhattan on a consistent basis to get top-notch entertainment… On the typical touring concert where there might also be a play at Barclays Center, we feel like the buyer universe from Long Island is so strong with over three million people as a population base that we can really focus on.”
Focusing on the local community will also extend into programming, on-site retail, concessions and employment, where an expected 2,700 new jobs will be created for Long Island-based staff. Building on Barclays’ local approach, Nassau Coliseum brought in Levy’s (which does concessions for Barclays) to develop a Long Island Taste program, offering craft beers, wine and food options from across the Island. And community-based family events and Long Island-specific “premium content offerings” will be part of the hundreds of events BSE is planning to host there each year, which will also include hockey games (13,000 capacity), basketball games (13,500 capacity) top-level concerts (14,500 capacity, with the ability to flex up to 16,000) and theater shows (4,500 capacity).
“In addition to that, because the building sits on 77 acres of space, what used to be just a parking lot is now going to be an area where Long Islanders can eat, play, shop, dine,” Sheldon said. “And what that does is it brings footfall to the area. And increased footfall and more entertainment options creates more buying, and with more buying, shows are more encouraged to come out here. And one feeds the other.”
For now, with heavy construction still underway, those plans are still months from reality, and the restoration of the Coliseum to its former glory — in its heyday it hosted show from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Pink Floyd and Prince — still has some way to go. While the Coliseum will retain its name, a naming rights partner is expected to be announced in the coming months, and the headliner for its springtime re-opening will be revealed before the end of the year. But with its unveiling now less than a year away, BSE is optimistic about its success.
“We feel like what we’ve done at Barclays is going to be able to translate to the Coliseum,” Sheldon said. “And agents, managers and other content providers are starting to recognize that.”