Belmont Park

Isles owner: Belmont or bust

Residents of Elmont, Franklin Square and Valley Stream react to arena plans


Islanders co-owner Jonathan Ledecky said on Oct. 10 that building a sports arena at Belmont Park was the team’s top priority, in his first public remarks since the team announced its bid to build “a world-class sports and entertainment destination” last month.

“We are locked and loaded on Belmont,” Ledecky told reporters. “We have blinders on for Belmont. We are not looking at other places or other opportunities. We want to make Belmont a reality.”

Ledecky said the state-run property in Elmont is “strategically located,” with easy access to the Long Island Rail Road.

“This is all about the arena,” he said. “It is not a real estate play.”

The bidders, who responded to the state’s request for proposals by the Sept. 28 deadline, included sports teams such as the Islanders and the New York City Football Club, along with retail developer Blumenfeld Development Group.

Amy Varghese, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corp., New York’s largest public benefit corporation, wrote in an email to the Herald last week that she was not at liberty to discuss the specifics of the proposal process, including the proposals themselves. “Prior to the actual award of a contract,” Varghese wrote, “the State does not share details of the bids in order to protect the integrity of the contract award process.” She added that there was “no set timeline” to award a contract.

Gary Lewi, a spokesman for the Syosset-based Blumenfeld, said that its latest proposal is similar to what was first proposed in 2012 — a chain of retail stores with Costco as the anchor store — with a few small additions. He declined to provide specifics, saying that Empire requested that bidders not disclose details.

“We spoke with the community first, and from there we began working with them on a plan together that generates jobs and strengthens economic development for their community,” Lewi said in a phone interview. “Ultimately, it’s New York state’s decision, as they are conducting thoughtful, deliberative review.”

The RFP’s closure, combined with Ledecky’s comments last week, has some Islanders fans energized, but the team’s former ties to the Nassau Coliseum are still a sore subject.

“While Belmont would be better than going to Brooklyn, if they do go to Belmont, what would become of Nassau Coliseum?” said Julian Farrell, 47, a teacher at South High School in Valley Stream. “I still feel Nassau Coliseum is where they should be and could be.”

Carl Gerrato, a Franklin Square resident who is running for county legislator in District 8, said that although he’s an Islanders fan, he is not in favor of an arena in Belmont Park.

“Anything we’re going to use, it better be sustainable all year round,” Gerrato said. “In the past proposals, the soccer stadium wasn’t a good idea because it was going to be open, not closed. We live in New York. It just didn’t make any sense.”

Tammie Williams, an Elmont resident and a community activist, said that the Islanders’ focusing their bid on the property makes it unfair for other bidders to submit a variety of proposals, some of which, she believes, are better suited to the community.

“Empire State Development Corp. has limited ideas to stadiums and arenas, instead of encouraging as many creative proposals as possible,” Williams said. “The previous RFP did not require developers to put up a million dollars just to submit a bid. The Belmont community will continue to fight for real economic development.”

The retail giant Amazon was rumored to be interested in bringing a second headquarters to the East Coast, and County Executive Ed Mangano, along with Long Island Association CEO Kevin Law and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, held a news conference on Sept. 28 to ask Amazon to consider Belmont Park.

State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) voiced support for the Amazon idea. “An Amazon headquarters will invest over $5 billion in construction and grow as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs,” Solages said in a statement. “This is exactly what Elmont, Floral Park and the surrounding communities need.”

Solages did not weigh in on the Islanders’ interest in Belmont but said she was open to hearing all suggestions as long as community stakeholders were included in the decision-making process.

Belmont Park, along with Heartland Town Square and Brookhaven Airport, in Suffolk County, were the three prospective sites that the Long Island leaders want the Empire State Development Corp. to consider including as part of the state’s proposal to Amazon.

Melissa Koenig contributed to this story.