Islanders arena project buoyed by train station announcement

NHL ice hockey franchise the New York Islanders has seen its plans to move to a new arena on the site of the Belmont Park racecourse boosted by the unveiling of a new Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train station.

The Islanders have been pressing on with the project since being granted permission in December 2017 to build a new 18,000-seat arena on the site of Belmont Park. 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 $1.26bn (£1.01bn/€1.12bn) development.

The plans have been met with questions over how local infrastructure would cope with increased traffic due to a lack of public transportation options to Belmont Park. However, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday (Monday) unveiled the first full-time LIRR station in nearly 50 years, helping mitigate traffic concerns and providing a new amenity to the Elmont community.

The new train station will be located between the Queens Village and Bellerose stations on the LIRR’s Main Line, just east of the Cross Island Parkway. Electric shuttle buses – which are already planned to run from parking lots within Belmont Park to the arena site – will also serve LIRR riders traveling to the grandstand and planned arena, hotel and retail village.

“The Belmont project will help drive the region’s economy forward while building the Islanders a state-of-the-art facility at home on Long Island, creating thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic output along the way,” Cuomo said.

“Now with the addition of the first full-time LIRR train station in almost 50 years, we will provide millions of visitors and fans a fast and affordable way to get there and continue New York’s nation-leading investments in 21st century transportation infrastructure.”

The Islanders used yesterday’s announcement to reveal a new rendering of its proposed arena (pictured). Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky added: “Today we celebrate with our loyal fans and we thank Governor Cuomo, the elected officials, and the community for their ongoing support. Next Stop: Belmont!”

The state said constructing the new full-time station and upgrading the existing spur is estimated to cost $105m. It added that the arena developers will cover $97m, with the remainder being funded by the state.

However, the New York Post newspaper reports that state officials later clarified that the developers will only pay $30m up front with the remaining $67m to be covered by a no-interest, multi-decade state loan. This development has been criticised by opponents of the project.

Tammie Williams of the Belmont Park Community Coalition told the Post: “Obviously the State of New York wants to play hide the puck, and pretend that arena developers are paying for a massive transportation project instead of the taxpayers and commuters, and they buried that actual fact in the fine print. That is a disrespect, and cardinal breach of public trust.”

In response, Empire State Development spokesman Jack Sterne said: “Through this public-private partnership, the developer will repay New York State for 92% of the cost of a new LIRR station in Elmont that will provide 24-7 service to an area that has long-needed it, alleviating congestion and cutting commutes for thousands of New Yorkers.

“This ESD financing package provides a unique solution that applies private funding to create a permanent, public, MTA station, showing the creativity necessary to revitalise the system.”

The Islanders currently split home games between Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center under an agreement reached in January 2018. Brooklyn’s Barclays Center had been the team’s sole home from 2015. Prior to that, the Islanders had spent more than 30 years at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum.

While New York State yesterday also certified the arena’s Environmental Impact Statement, the project still requires various government approvals before work can begin. However, the state also used yesterday’s announcement to release projections on how the Belmont Redevelopment Project will benefit the region’s economy.

According to analysis prepared by BJH Advisors, the project will create approximately 10,000 construction jobs and 3,200 permanent jobs, generating nearly $50m in new public revenue annually, approximately $725m in annual economic activity and generating annual employee earnings of roughly $133m.

The report added that for every $1 in private money invested, another $1.40 of economic activity will be generated.

Image: New York Islanders