The New York Islanders were yesterday (Wednesday) granted permission to build a new 18,000-seat arena on the site of the Belmont Park horse-racing facility, clearing the way for the NHL ice hockey team to return to Long Island.
The Islanders saw off competition from Major League Soccer team New York City FC to build a new arena on the site, which will form part of a wide-ranging $1bn (£749m/€843m) development. The space will also feature a hotel, along with retail, dining and entertainment space, offices and parking.
Since 2015, the Islanders have played at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, a facility which is shared with NBA basketball team the Brooklyn Nets. The Islanders had previously spent more than 30 years at the Nassau Colisuem on Long Island. The team had to move when it became clear that the Nassau Coliseum would not be redeveloped.
The Islanders moved to the Barclays Center two years ago but the relocation has proved tough, with the team having the lowest average attendance in the NHL this year. It is hoped that going ‘home’ to Long Island will help revive the club’s fortunes and make attending games easier for eastern fans.
No construction timetable has been set for the new arena yet, although Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky is keen to begin work as soon as possible. The 2018-19 NHL season will mark the Islanders’ last at the Barclays Center.
The Nassau Coliseum, which has benefited from a $165m redevelopment project since the Islanders left, could act as a temporary home for the team while the new Belmont Park facility is built.
“I think today was a great day because the franchise remains 1,000 per cent in New York,” Ledecky said. “Our concern was finding a permanent home for the Islanders.
“This site is a fantastic site because it enables people from Metro New York to take a train from Grand Central or Penn Station direct 35, 36 minutes and it enables our great fans from Long Island to either take the train or drive here too.”
Islanders captain John Tavares added: “The Islanders are called the Islanders for a reason. This is really where the team belongs. To have somewhere where it’s written in stone that we’re going to have a home that’s going to be long and permanent and built for the Islanders on Long Island on a very historical place on Long Island I think is pretty special.”