Placing bets on the future of Belmont Park

Originally published in Newsday on March 24, 2021.

As work continues on the new arena for the New York Islanders at Belmont Park, there is renewed attention on redeveloping the rest of the massive property, including the grandstand, track and infield, sources with knowledge of the talks told The Point.

Plans being considered include a new, possibly smaller grandstand, a winterized track able to handle racing year-round, additional green space that could be used by the public, and an infield open to fans and the public year-round, with picnic areas, ballfields and more. Sources told The Point that the additional green spaces and new infield uses were particularly important since some of Belmont’s previous open space was lost in the construction of the Islanders’ arena.

New York Racing Association officials have briefed community leaders and elected officials, including State Sens. Todd Kaminsky and Anna Kaplan and State Assemb. member Michaelle Solages, on the initial plans for the site.

None of the plans are finalized, the sources said. And it’s unclear how much the redevelopment effort would cost, how it would be financed and whether all of these ideas are contingent on the future of Aqueduct Racetrack.

The plans for remaking Belmont, and in particular adding year-round racing to the property, are part of a far bigger game plan, one that involves the approval for three downstate casino licenses that has been part of ongoing budget discussions in Albany. The long-discussed casino locations always included Aqueduct as one of the moving pieces. Many gambling and racing supporters hope that Aqueduct's racing could be moved to Belmont, to make way for a potential casino at Aqueduct.

"I’m in favor of improving the racing experience at Belmont, but it needs to fit into a larger context of what’s going to happen with downstate racing, in particular with Aqueduct," Kaminsky said. "And the discussions with neighbors in the community need to happen first as well."

Kaminsky and Solages also suggested that remaking Belmont was critical to making it more of an entertainment destination for the region.

"On its face, I think it’s high time that we actually start looking at making racing more attractive at Belmont Park… It could make Belmont really the gem of Long Island, the gem of downstate New York State, when it comes to racing, and also hockey and entertainment," Solages told The Point. "It could create a synergy that supports not only what happens at that location but also the surrounding community, but the community has to be involved in the process."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, especially given some past vocal opposition to the arena-related development at Belmont, all three legislators echoed that need for community input.

"As with every discussion around changes to the Belmont property… I’ve been insistent that there needs to be extensive, proactive community outreach," Kaplan said in a statement.

NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said those conversations were already underway.

"Every major stadium or arena in the metro area has been built anew or completely renovated since 2009, and the time has come to modernize a facility that has not seen significant upgrades since 1968," McKenna said. "A revitalized Belmont Park would create jobs, promote tourism and expand the economic impact of thoroughbred racing in Nassau County and throughout New York State."