Belmont Park, the venerable metro New York City Thoroughbred racetrack, now has key government approval as the site for the new home of the NHL’s New York Islanders.
On Thursday, the Empire State Development board unanimously approved a $1.3 billion project that will bring the NHL’s New York Islanders back to Nassau County — with a new hockey arena, hotel, and retail complex adjacent to Belmont Park.
The Islanders have played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn since 2015, a move that had not been warmly received by fans from Long Island, many of whom did not want to make the long commute into the city from New York’s suburbs. Before the move, the team played at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale since its opening in 1972. That rink is where fans watched an Islanders team win four straight Stanley Cups, from 1980 to 1983.
“It’s time to rock and roll and put up that great building to have a home that we can call our own to keep the Islanders on Long Island,” Islanders co-owner John Ledecky said to the Long Island Press. “Because the fans deserve this,”
One such fan, Suzanne Semler of East Rockaway, said at the ESD public hearing, “I’m an Islanders fan and a horse racing fan and this makes sure Belmont is maintained and the team stays on Long Island. It’s so exciting.”
Hockey and horse racing interests alike seem to be celebrating the forthcoming move. The key approval follows last month’s announcement by state officials that a new Long Island Railroad station would be built to accommodate fans traveling to and from the arena.
Today marks an historic occasion for the #Isles and our amazing fans!
The ESD Board has approved the Environmental Impact Statement for Belmont Park Arena & the schedule is on track to have our new home open for the 2021-22 season! #NextStopBelmont https://t.co/HIcqXZbC92
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) August 8, 2019
Green Light for Racetrack Development
With construction plans approved, the new Belmont Park Arena is slated to open in time for the 2021-22 season. A promised state-of-the-art structure will sit on a 43-acre vacant plot of state-owned land in the unincorporated New York community of Elmont, home to the historic Belmont Park racetrack.
Belmont Park officials are backing the arena project, hoping a new NHL hockey venue and accompanying retail offerings will attract new fans to the flagging thoroughbred sport. Some Belmont Park races would temporarily be moved to nearby Aqueduct to accommodate construction.
Key elements of proposed Belmont Park Arena
- 19,000-seat arena
- 350,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space
- 250-room hotel
- New railroad station adjacent to proposed arena
Neighborhood Opposition Slows Construction
When, if as expected, the Franchise Oversight Board approves the state’s environmental review of the proposal, construction can begin. Backers are projecting the arena could be ready in time for the 2021 season, but are being less certain about when to expect a formal groundbreaking.
Developers are still facing opposition from a small but vocal group of Elmont and Floral Park residents, who are fearful of increased traffic in their communities. They have threatened a lawsuit to keep the project from getting out of the gate.
Initial plans optimistically called for ground to be broken this summer, but the slowly grinding wheels of government were delaying the project plans.
New York Arena Partners — a partnership between the Islanders, Mets, and arena developers Oak View Group — are advancing the Elmont/Belmont Park plan.
The team expects to split home games between the renovated Nassau Coliseum and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn while the new venue is being built.