A delay is now likely in the start of the massive development project co-joining hockey and horse racing at New York’s Belmont Park.

plans for new Islanders arena
An overhead view of plans to develop a new arena and retail complex at Belmont Park shows the future home of the New York Islanders. (Image: New York Arena Partners)

New York Arena Partners, the developers behind the $1.18 billion project, were forecasting a May groundbreaking in hopes the NHL’s New York Islanders would be making the new arena their home ice starting in 2021. The arena would replace a little-used parking area at the historic racing plant.

NHL Boom Time

The new arena is seen as part of a boom period for the NHL. The boom includes an extremely successful second-year team in Las Vegas, the Vegas Golden Knights, and plans for additional expansion in Seattle.

This season, the Islanders are dividing their home games between Brooklyn’s Barclay Center and their former full-time home at the Nassau County Coliseum. The team expects to continue splitting home game venues, while awaiting construction of the new home ice that’s part of the Belmont project.

Environmental Impact Report Delayed

Officials from Empire State Development (ESD) say they are remaining hopeful that a final environmental impact statement on the project will be released by the end of June. Project backers are now fearing that even if that happens, no construction might begin until sometime this summer, at the earliest.

The delay also allows more time for public comment on the project that would adjoin the iconic track, home of the third jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.

Rachel Shatz, ESD’s vice president of planning and environmental review, said Thursday that putting together the final environmental impact statement is now much more difficult because of the enormous amount of comments already received on the arena plan.

Tammie Williams, a community organizer with the Belmont Park Community Coalition, a group opposing the project, says 2,000 letters in opposition to the project are already on file with ESD.

Rising Development Costs

ESD is an umbrella organization for New York’s two major economic development public-benefit corporations. It’s tasked with promoting the state economy, encouraging business investment and related functions. ESD is a major proponent of the recently scuttled plans for a second Amazon headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, New York.

ESD is now asking the arena developer to provide an additional $1.2 million to pay for the extended environmental review of the project. The ESD board agreed Thursday to extend the contract of the environmental review firm AKRF for one year, through Sept. 2020.

A key member of New York Arena Partners is Scott Malkin, who is also a principal in the majority ownership of the Islanders. The development group is comprised of the Oak View Group, Sterling Equities and the Scott Malkin Group.

New York Arena Partners is seeking to develop a 19,000-seat arena, 250-room hotel and 435,000-square-foot retail village on 43 acres of state-owned land, currently used as a small portion of Belmont Park’s parking area. In addition to environmental issues, local elected officials say that creating full-time train service to Belmont’s Long Island Rail Road station should be a prerequisite to final project approval.

Train Service Shortage?

The Nassau County Village Officials Association has passed a resolution that any final approval of the Belmont project must include a full-time station at Belmont Park and that the “developer be required to bear and pay all costs associated with the upgrade of the station, without the expenditure of public resources (tax revenue, bond proceeds or otherwise) to rebuild said station.”

Belmont Park, in the age of horse race simulcasting, is seeing reduced attendance over recent decades. It was originally a 600-plus acre tract in Elmont, New York, but now is reduced by about a third to 445 acres, according to the New York Racing Association (NYRA), the organization that controls the facility.

NYRA says it hopes to makeover Belmont Park during the proposed arena construction. Such renovations may require moving some live racing to nearby Aqueduct, another NYRA track in metro New York City.