Islanders arena project up for final approval Thursday

Candice Ferrette & Jim Baumbach for Newsday

August 07, 2019

Originally published in Newsday on August 07, 2019.

A $1.3 billion project intended to bring the Islanders back to Nassau County faces a critical vote Thursday that could result in work beginning as early as this month on a new arena and entertainment complex on state land at Belmont Park.

The six-member board of Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing economic development in New York, meets in midtown Manhattan at 3 p.m. and is expected to vote on final approval for the project.

Last week, the state Public Authorities Control Board approved ESD’s acquisition of the 43-acre Belmont property from the state Franchise Oversight Board, the agency that oversees the New York Racing Association. The Franchise Oversight Board still would need to approve the state’s environmental review.

The approvals would pave the way for the return of the National Hockey League Islanders to Long Island. Backers also say the project would generate an estimated $858 million in economic impact, and that a new, full-service Long Island Rail Road stop, infrastructure repairs and thousands of jobs also would be created. 

“This is about our pride as Long Islanders. The Islanders belong here — let’s get Belmont done,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, said Wednesday. 

New York Arena Partners, developers of the project, plan to build a 19,000-seat arena, 350,000 square feet of upscale shops and restaurants, a 250-room hotel and parking on the vacant public property at Belmont Park.

The development group is a partnership of the owners of the Islanders, the New York Mets and the arena development company Oak View Group.

Some civic groups representing residents in the surrounding communities of Floral Park, Elmont and Bellerose have taken issue with the size and scope of the arena project since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the plan in December 2017.

Residents of the area close to Belmont have warned of increased traffic, water usage, noise and light pollution. About 150 residents, public officials and civic leaders gathered Monday to express concern about the prospect of final approvals. They have asked the state for additional time to respond to the final environmental impact statement because it includes new elements such as the new train station. 

Michael Murphy, a Manhattan-based environmental law attorney representing Floral Park Village, wrote to ESD on August 1 that the state agency "has fundamentally failed to consider local community needs and desires" and added new elements to the project that haven't been studied, such as the new LIRR station.

Last month, Cuomo announced a plan to build the new LIRR Elmont station at a cost of $105 million. The arena developers would pay the state $50 million upfront for the project, including $30 million for the train station and nearly all the remaining balance to the state over the next 30 years, interest-free. 

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) called the 20 months of work to get the project to the final approval stage, "an example of what can happen when government, business and the community can come together to everyone’s collective benefit. We looked at the project and brought some important concerns to the forefront."

Kaminsky called the LIRR station "a game-changer" and also noted additional planned funding for schools, parks and a new community center in Elmont. Kaminsky said some of the concerns of residents who have homes near the proposed construction site are "still being worked out."