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Construction to start soon at Belmont Park

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Construction on a new arena and retail center will begin soon, after the state Franchise Oversight Board granted the project its final approval on Aug. 13.

At its meeting, the board — which oversees racing in New York — granted economic growth agency Empire State De-velopment several parking easements and approved New York Arena Partners’ lease of the land. 

The partners are a consortium led by the New York Islanders hockey franchise, which includes Oak View Group, a development company partially funded by Madison Square Garden, and Sterling Project Development, a real estate development firm run by the Wilpon family, which owns the Mets. The partners plan to redevelop the back lots of Belmont Park for a 19,000-seat arena for the Islanders, a 250-room hotel, a community center, commercial office space and 350,000 square feet of retail space. 

New York Arena Partners has already begun to survey the site as part of its agreement with the Franchise Oversight Board, taking soil samples and preparing the site for construction, although that construction can’t begin until the partners sign a lease with ESD and receive work permits.

“As with any major construction project, our development partners need to prepare the Belmont site before construction can start,” ESD spokesman Jack Sterne said in an emailed statement to Horse Race Insider. “Permits for full construction will not be issued until a lease is signed.”

The construction manager is the Los Angeles-based AECOM Hunt, in association with the Michigan-based Barton Marlow Company. Sterling Project Development, which the Wilpons also own, will serve as the project manager and development adviser to New York Arena Partners. 

ESD officials expect construction to be completed before the 2021-22 hockey season. The project should produce 10,000 construction jobs, they said, and “generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax dollars and create billions of dollars in economic activity.”

The agency also approved a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, under which NYAP would pay taxes to the county, the Elmont and Sewanhaka school districts and the Emont Fire District. According to ESD officials, the PILOT agreements for the arena, hotel and retail village will generate $272 million over 49 years, with $154 million going to the school districts, $103 million to Nassau County and $15 million to the Fire District. The PILOT for the hotel is to be phased out in 20 years, and for the retail area, in 15 years, after which property taxes will be fully paid.

For the arena, they said, NYAP will pay $10,000 per full event, and $5,000 per event with 5,000 or fewer attendees. Arena Partners guaranteed the state a minimum annual PILOT payment of $1 million for the first year, which will increase annually.

Additionally, in the final environmental impact statement, ESD officials added an Elmont Long Island Rail Road station, on the border of Elmont and Bellerose Terrace. It will be equidistant from the Queens Village and Bellerose stations, and cost about $105 million to complete. Arena developers have agreed to cover 92 percent of the total cost, with the state providing $8 million in funding. 

The eastbound platform is to be built first to accommodate Islanders fans heading to the team’s opening game in 2021, and construction on the north side of the station is expected to be complete in 2022, although transportation historian Larry Penner and State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages previously noted that westbound trains would not become available until the Third Track and East Side Access projects are finished in 2023.

The Franchise Oversight Board’s approval came less than a week after the ESD board approved the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act and Urban Development Corporation Act findings, and held a public hearing on the project.

The majority of speakers at the Aug. 8 meeting — including a number of Elmont residents — expressed support for the project. Some read letters from neighbors who could not attend the afternoon session, and 21-year-old Joshua Johnson showed the board a video that he made of residents explaining why they support the project. It showed Elmont’s crumbling infrastructure and a flooded soccer field at a local park, which ESD officials have agreed to fix.

Others said they were excited by the new job opportunities and revenue that the project is expected to bring to Elmont. “Many of us consider this as a sign of hope that we are on our way to economic development,” said Oneil Gordon, of Elmont.

Not all speakers favored the project, however. Floral Park Deputy Mayor Kevin Fitzerald called the project “detrimental to the neighborhood” and asked the board to issue a supplemental environmental impact statement focusing on the LIRR station, which would abut a Floral Park-Bellerose elementary school. 

At the start of the meeting, Rachel Shatz, ESD’s vice president of planning and environmental review, explained that the draft environmental impact statement included language stating that traffic concerns would be addressed in the final statement, and in response to Fitzgerald, Elmont resident Jon Johnson exclaimed, “No one can speak for Elmont. Elmont wants this project.”

But members of the Belmont Park Community Coalition disagreed with Johnson’s assessment of the project’s popularity, and are raising funds with Elmont-based Highlighting Success Inc. to appeal the agency’s decision. 

“The State of New York plans to take up a major redevelopment project for our community,” the coalition posted on social media on Aug. 9, one day after the vote. “Unfortunately, the state has chosen to ignore the surrounding communities and our concerns about the redevelopment proposal.”

Tammie Williams, a member of the civic group, explained that ESD did not include community members in its master plan, and so residents did not have a say in the project. She said on Aug. 15 that the fundraising was going well, and she and the other members are reviewing ESD documents for their appeal.

The group has until mid-December to file its suit.

Ronny Reyes and Timothy Denton contributed to this story.