At Long Last, Islanders Officially Break Ground On New 19,000-Seat Arena At Belmont Park

Carolyn Gusoff for CBS New York

September 23, 2019

Originally published in CBS New York on September 23, 2019.

ELMONT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It was a long-awaited day for fans of the New York Islanders.

Team members joined supporters at a groundbreaking for what will be the NHL franchise’s new arena at Belmont Park.

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, it brings the team that moved to Brooklyn four years ago home.

Shovels are already deep in the ground, but Monday was about the ceremonial shovels.

It was more of groundbreaking for what Gov, Andrew Cuomo hailed as a game-changer, a privately funded $1.3 billion hockey arena and retail village at Belmont, along with a new Long Island Rail Road station to get folks there.

“A new transportation terminal, a great economic development vehicle and a great new sports stadium. Three things all together in one project. The technical term for that is that is a hat trick, my friends. Congratulations,” Cuomo said.

A 19,000-seat arena, retail, restaurants and a hotel on 43 acres of vacant state-owned property at Belmont Park are expected to bring in 10,000 construction jobs.

And obviously it’s a big win for long suffering Islanders fans.

“This is a sea of Long Island love for our beloved New York Islanders. Welcome home,” one person said.

“Brooklyn never cut it for us. It’s a Long Island team,” another said.

“We thought it was never going to come. We thought we were gonna lose our boys. We are so happy they are back on Long Island,” another added.

But some community groups are not celebrating; they’re suing. They are unhappy with the prospects of traffic and low-paying permanent jobs.

“The new lawsuit filed by Elmont residents is designed to stop this in its tracks,” said Aubrey Phillips of the Belmont Park Coalition. “Park land cannot simply be handed over to a developer without an act of the Legislature.”

But after a dozen public meetings and state environmental review, elected officials said they see a win-win.

“We are going to get a new Long Island Rail Road station, the first in decades, which is going to serve the community, millions of extra dollars for the schools, refurbished parks, a new community center,” said state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat representing Rockville Centre.

“This is truly going to be a world class destination. It is going to be a state-of-the-art arena in every single respect,” Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said.

The goal of developers is to have the Islanders playing on their new home ice at the start of the 2021-22 season.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the crowd Monday the Islanders will play 28 regular season games this season at Nassau Coliseum, seven more than originally planned.