Bolstering Belmont Now a NYRA Commitment

Jack M. Martins

March 02, 2011

From the Elmont-Franklin Square Herald, a Richner Communications Newspaper

By Jackie Nash

New York Racing Association officials committed to investing in the revitalization of Belmont Park at a State Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee meeting Feb. 7. Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican from Elmont who advocated not only for improvements at Belmont but for revamping the Hempstead Turnpike corridor at the hearing, said the commitment was “a very positive step forward” toward developing Belmont’s south lot and improving the aging racetrack.

“NYRA was doing a lot of talking about Aqueduct, video lottery terminal revenues and its impact on communities and racing in New York state,” Martins said. “What I didn’t hear was where Belmont stood in the conversation. … My goal is to get revitalization projects in and around Belmont jump-started, with the shovel hitting the earth.”

Scott Cushing, Martins’s executive assistant, said that although no specific amount of money has been committed to Belmont, NYRA expects the investment to be “significant.” The association’s president, Charles Hayward, told Martins that it would be funded by the revenues from video lottery terminals — slot machine-type gaming devices — at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. VLTs are expected to be installed at Aqueduct before the end of the year.

NYRA’s communications director, Dan Silver, explained that 44 percent of VLT revenue will go to the state, 23.4 percent to vendors, 10 percent to lottery administration, 8 percent to vendor marketing, 6.5 percent to racetrack purses, 4 percent to NYRA’s capital expenses, 3 percent to its operational expenses, and 1 percent to a breeding fund. After the VLTs are installed at Aqueduct, Silver said, NYRA will track their revenues and decide what kind of investment will go to Belmont Park.

Cushing said that VLTs installed at the Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs and at Yonkers Raceway have generated millions of dollars for their communities, so capturing a portion of the Aqueduct VLT revenues will be significant for Belmont Park.

“It’s our job to make sure that we not only get our fair share, but wisely use these revenues to revitalize, create jobs and expand the tax base, which will help us relieve the property tax burden on homeowners,” Martins said, adding that the investment will help Belmont become a more central gathering point for the community, spur job growth and expand the tax base in the area.

“It’s critical that this investment happens. There are some very important things that need to be done for Belmont to be a winner,” Cushing said, explaining that Belmont’s south lot has been a focus for revitalization for years. It contains open, underutilized space that could be used for “job creating” development, he said, such as a walkable mall with retail stores, which was proposed by the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development.

Another possible development for the area would be a hotel on the north side of the racetrack, a proposal also included in the Coalition for Sustainable Development’s Vision Plan. There has also been discussion of developing a community center next to the hotel that could be used for weddings and other large events, Cushing said.

He added that another project that is being considered by Martins and the coalition, which could be facilitated by NYRA’s investment, is reopening the Long Island Rail Road station on Belmont’s north end. The station was closed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last year due to budget cuts, and has since been open on a limited basis only during racing season.

Martins said that NYRA officials’ agreement on investment in Belmont was a first for the community. “I know NYRA wants to be a good neighbor,” he said. “What we needed was their commitment to real dollars being spent on revitalization, improvements at Belmont and a spirit of cooperation. I was glad to hear President Hayward’s comments and offer of teamwork with the community. Working together, we will get things done. I’m pleased that we have it on record that NYRA is involved and engaged in this important initiative for the Elmont, Floral Park, South Floral Park and Franklin Square communities.”

Sandra Smith, the coalition’s co-chair, said she is very optimistic about NYRA’s future investment in Belmont Park. “We have come a long way in terms of the NYRA. Going back five years ago, we had a hearing in Elmont, arguing that NYRA was not a good neighbor to Elmont,” Smith said, explaining that in years past, racetrack officials didn’t feel they had enough say in what happened at Belmont. “I’m glad to see everybody is on board with revitalization at Belmont Park. To hear that these funds would go to Belmont is phenomenal. It is a huge piece of property, and it is the entrance to the community.”