If you asked the average Long Islander do they know where Mitchel Field is you would probably be met with a blank stare.
Possibly, if you live in Uniondale or Hempstead, there is a chance you have heard of this vast site, whose history dates back to the Revolutionary War. While its past history may be memorable, it currently sits there desperate for some forward-thinking planner or elected official, to come up with a bold idea on what to do with its vast acreage.
According to Wikipedia, during the Revolutionary War, Mitchel Field was on land known as the Hempstead Plains.
During the War of 1812, it was an Army enlistment center. During the American Civil War, it was the site of a training center for Infantry units and was the location of Camp Winfield Scott.
During the Spanish-American War, it was known as Camp Black. Fast forward to World War I, on each day, aviators were trained for air combat. During all of the current wars, it was a daily landing site for a variety of planes as part of the national defense system.
With the breakout of World War II, it became a United States Air Force facility and was given the name Mitchel Air Force Base. It was designated as the command and control organization for supervising the training of the air reserve in 15 eastern states and the District of Columbia.
But by 1949, due to the growth of nearby communities, a decision was made to shift its operations to an out-of-state facility. In June 1961, the land which is bordered by the Meadowbrook Parkway and Hempstead Turnpike was closed for military use. The property was then turned over to Nassau County.
When the Nassau Coliseum was opened in the 1960s there was a ray of hope that the land would be developed into some type of commercial and residential complex.
Regrettably, the county officials muffed the challenge and proceeded to give out a number of long-term land leases to favored party donors.
Eventually, the leases expired and today’s Mitchel Field is home to a small group of occupants, including the Cradle of Aviation, Nassau County Community College, Hofstra University and the Coliseum. There is still a large amount of undeveloped land, which is the subject of continuous talk and no action.
Periodically, a ray of hope emerges when some master developer announces plans for the Mitchel land. Twenty-five years ago, the late Charles Wang proposed a massive entertainment and housing complex called the “Lighthouse”, which included a remodeled Nassau Coliseum, which was to be the permanent home of the New York Islanders.
Wang owned the team and was desperate to keep it on the island. The plan was grand in size and frightened most of the then-elected officials, who had difficulty imagining what such a project would involve. The fate of the Wang plan fell into the jurisdiction of the Town of Hempstead, which eventually decided that it was not in its political interests to let the project be built.
After the failure of the Wang proposal, there was some hope that the Nassau Coliseum would remain as home of the hockey team.
But the team moved to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and never came to use the Coliseum as its permanent home. The Coliseum went through a renovation and attracted some major events. But once again, government malpractice intervened.
There was no doubt that the Coliseum was too small for a professional hockey team and there was a chance that the team could move off island.
The new owners of the Islanders, working with the state and a private developer, pushed hard for a new home and with the blessing of Governor Cuomo, the UBS Arena at Belmont Park was born.
There is no doubt that the facility is modern and most attractive, but no new plans were advanced for the Mitchel Field site. The only tenant in the Coliseum is the Riptide, a great professional lacrosse team, but the arena sits idle most of the year.
There is no discussion about the next stage in the life of Mitchel Field, which is a sad story for Long Island.