Onstage in August 2015 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, in the New York suburbs of Long Island, Billy Joel, 66, chose the perfect song to begin a milestone performance.
“I’m moving out!” shouted the gray-bearded singer at the Aug. 4 show, the final event at the arena before it closed its doors for $130 million worth of renovations. The night ended a four-decade run at the 16,800-capacity hall, which has hosted Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Prince and Bruce Springsteen, among many others.
Like many of his fans that night, Joel hails from “the Island,” which stretches 110 miles east of Manhattan, a sprawling landscape of malls, commercial strips, crowded highways and single-family homes surrounded by water-hungry lawns. Joel himself, playing his environmental lament “No Man’s Land” at the Coliseum that night, sang of Long Island’s “miles and miles of parking space.”
It all makes Long Island an unlikely setting for a project on the cutting edge of sustainable design.
But both economics and rising concern for the environment are guiding the green rebuilding of Nassau Coliseum, says Rebecca D’Eloia, senior vp development, sports and entertainment for Forest City Ratner Companies, the project’s developer. (The same firm constructed the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which opened in 2012.)
In the downtown Brooklyn offices of Forest City, D’Eloia spreads out plans for the coliseum on a conference table and points to a steel grid that will support the striking new external “fins” chosen for the arena by Manhattan-based SHoP Architects (which also designed the exterior of the Barclays Center).
The raw material of steel “is almost all recycled,” she says, with the fins made of a composite material called Alucabond that is “about 26 percent recycled.”
Repurposing the 43-year-old structure instead of demolishing it was one of the most fundamental green decisions in the project, initiated by Nassau County, owner of the coliseum. “Renovating is inherently sustainable,” D’Eloia says.
Environmental awareness at venues in recent years has been driven largely by professional sports teams, the anchor tenants for many concert arenas. More than 300 sports teams and venues from 20 different leagues in 14 countries are members of The Green Sports Alliance, an organization formed in 2010 in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council to promote sustainable business methods.
“Fans want this, bands want this,” says Adam Gardner, co-founder of Reverb, a nonprofit -organization in Maine whose work includes helping acts reduce the environmental impact of their tours. Since 2004, Reverb — under the leadership of Gardner (who also is a co-founder of the indie band Guster) and his wife, environmentalist Lauren Sullivan — has guided efforts by the Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Linkin Park and Maroon 5, among others, while consulting with concert promotion giants Live Nation and AEG.
D’Eloia also says the coliseum’s green renovation carries practical economic benefits and will benefit the project’s bottom line, reducing waste and energy use. The San Francisco-based architecture firm Gensler will seek suppliers within a 500-mile radius to cut the cost and impact of transportation, while some 50 percent of the demolition material will be “diverted, sorted and recycled,” says D’Eloia.
The architects at Gensler will reconfigure the inside of the venue with 13,000 seats, party spaces and improved amenities for fans. High-efficiency lighting and water systems, upgraded heating and ventilation, and new weather-tight entryways will cut operating costs.
After the arena reopens next winter — booked by Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark and the Barclays Center team — local vendors, from Long Island’s farms and wineries, and compostable packaging will keep the focus green.
Forest City also has plans for the 77-acre -property surrounding the coliseum, with a $260.5 million investment in new shops and restaurants.
“The zoning for the site really is focused on trying to create a more walkable environment,” says D’Eloia, who points out a bike lane in the plans for the site, which adjoins Hofstra University and Nassau Community College.
By taking a ’70s arena, built amid acres of asphalt, and creating a venue that is part of a pedestrian-friendly, multi-use development, Forest City’s plans are part of another sustainable trend.
Other examples abound. L.A. Live in Los Angeles; Xfinity Live in Philadelphia; the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas; the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif.; Rogers Place, in Edmonton, Alberta; and the Barclays Center, part of the surrounding Pacific Park development.
In the intensely competitive New York concert market, the coliseum’s green plans may give it an edge in drawing talent, says Gardner.
“Anything a venue can do to differentiate itself, like being sustainable, registers with artists,” he says. “I want to tell artists we work with about this.”