Officials break ground on renovations for Nassau Coliseum

MINEOLA, N.Y. -- Using a large sledgehammer, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and developer Bruce Ratner smashed a hole in the wall of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, officially starting the renovation of the former home of the New York Islanders.

The coliseum renovation project, funded by $260 million in private investments, will convert the arena into a sports and entertainment hub that will also feature retail stores, a movie theater and seven restaurants. The redeveloped property is scheduled to open in 2016.

"We are very, very excited to break ground today," Mangano told reporters. "We're glad to bring this vision to a reality."

The groundbreaking ceremony came about a week after Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said he purchased a controlling stake in the company that is redeveloping the coliseum.

The coliseum, affectionately known by fans as the "Old Barn," has hosted a string of legendary athletes and entertainers, from Julius Erving to Billy Joel.

Islanders owner Charles Wang had tried for nearly a decade to replace the coliseum with a new arena. When several efforts failed, including a 2011 referendum for a $400 million taxpayer-backed renovation, Wang announced he would move the team to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The Nassau Coliseum redevelopment is expected to create more than 1,035 direct construction jobs and more than 570 additional indirect and induced jobs in Nassau County, Mangano said in a statement.

After the renovation, the coliseum is expected to host six Islanders games and a Nets preseason game, as well as minor league sports and college basketball games, according to Mangano. Officials said the entertainment complex will also host "star-studded concerts," though a schedule has not yet been released.

"Long Islanders have waited far too long for a premier entertainment destination that they can be proud of," Ratner said.