Islanders really definitely considering building new arena at Belmont Park, maybe

Confirming rumors that first emerged last summer and then re-emerged in February, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Friday that the owners of the New York Islanders are definitely going to bid on state-owned land at Belmont Park racetrack, with the goal of building a new arena there:

“Yes, there is an RFP [request for proposal] for Belmont and I know they are going to participate in that,” Bettman said of the Islanders. “I believe that everyone thinks there is a terrific opportunity there, if not at Willets Point, to create a more hockey friendly environment for the Islanders, which is something [Islanders co-owner] Scott [Malkin] is committed to do.”

You’ll note that all this is still pretty hedgy: “Participating” in bids for the land isn’t the same as actually committing to building an arena (the New York Cosmos participated in bidding for years, and that went nowhere), and Bettman still isn’t ruling out building in Willets Point near the Mets‘ stadium, either. He did rule out playing at the renovated Nassau Coliseum as “not a long-term option,” but really all this comes down to is: The Islanders owners want a new arena of their own, and they’re going to try to get one, by gum.

Who would pay for both construction and land costs remains a mystery. Yes, Tim Leiweke’s Oak View Group and his partners at Madison Square Garden seem eager to make a splash in the arena business regardless of the cost, but that still doesn’t necessarily make the finances of yet another New York–area arena work out. I’ll close, by repeating what I said back in February:

There are way too many unknowns here to say whether this story could have legs, or is mostly just the Islanders owners trying to leverage Prokhorov into giving them a lease extension in Brooklyn that lets them keep their guaranteed-income deal and/or renovates the Barclays Center to be a less sucky place to watch hockey. I’m in an optimistic mood today, so I’ll say I hope that this is another indicator of a burgeoning arms race within Big Arena that sees billionaires throwing money at new venues without demanding big public subsidies, just because they’re trying to drive each other out of business. It couldn’t end well — anybody remember the Borders-Barnes & Noble war? — but at least the only casualties would be some private corporation’s bottom line.

The new Belmont Park request for proposals is expected to be issued soonish. If nothing else, it will be a very interesting ride.


16 comments on “Islanders really definitely considering building new arena at Belmont Park, maybe

  1. I guess I haven’t been watching closely enough. Why is the NHL commissioner ruling out the Islanders’ return to the Nassau Coliseum?

    Is it just down to the seating capacity of the renovated building? If so, that would seem strange. The Islanders weren’t selling out the old building; so a lower seating capacity isn’t going to limit them.

    • Ferdinand, my understanding is that the problem with the renovated Coliseum is not the bowl seating, but the fact that there are too few luxury boxes in the renovated arena to satisfy our beloved Commissioner. Neil, can you confirm this?

      • I think its because the Isles are among the 1/3 of the league that needs all arena revenue streams and operating subsidies to at least break even.

    • Small arena (13,000 although they say it can be expanded to 15,000). Even if they did sell out, a small arena hurts them. Little corporate support in suburbs. No rail or subway service unlike Belmont, Willets 0r Barclays. Plenty of land in area that could be developed (a former Air Force base) but many in area don’t want that..very congested and they don’t want welfare families in proposed. “low income housing” projects.

      I’ve been to the remodeled coliseum and the Jumbotron screen is very small, compared to Barclays or MSG. I suppose that could be fixed. But it still has a narrow causeway which is problem between periods.

      • Have you been to Barclays upstairs? The corridors are so narrow that if there’s a line for the restrooms (which there always is), they’re impassable.

        • That’s not true in any way, shape, or form any more or less than any of the other franchises, Steven.

          What I would like to say in response to Neil’s reply is although I’ve never been to the Barclay’s and am not that surprised, when hearing about the upper level concourse, what frustrates people who are familiar with the situation both in Nassau County and with the NYI is the easiest fix to the NVMC, both in terms of architecture and logistics, would have been to knock out the windows (which extend from the floor to about a foot away from the ceiling and does not impact the grounding of the facility in any way) and extend the ticket office (which protrudes on the E end of the building) 360 degrees. They could have taken the $$$ used on the silly, vestigial, cosmetic nonsense the county did with the outside of the building which really adds nothing to anything in terms of one’s entertainment experience or ability to entertain one’s clientele and used it to make the place more civil and pleasant on its’ exterior.

          And I heard the same thing – that basically there are the same number of actual luxury boxes in the new place as in the old. So they basically remodelled the existing facility the way one would remodel their basement. It looks nicer, but it’s the same basement. That in a nutshell is the hubris of Nassau County all the way.

      • Rufus,

        This idea of “little corporate support in the suburbs” is a bit ridiculous. When the Isles had their dynasty, although the sports landscape isn’t what it is now, they had plenty of “corporate support”. It’s the main reason why Pickett (the Isles’ owner at the time) had the boxes built at the Coliseum which were finished for the 81-82 season and later added onto. If the on-ice product hadn’t been run into the ground, dragged in the mud, beaten with dirty clubs, and shanked with infected skewers amidst an atmosphere of complete dysfunction and dog-and-pony sophomoric inanity over a period of 25 years, the Isles “brass”, mainly Wang but others who preceded him also, could never have used that as an excuse for their need to develop the real estate parcel around the NVMC.

        • Potential “Corporate Support” in Nassau has declined quite a bit since the 1980s too.

          Jobs that used to be in the suburbs have shifted back to the city.

          • Dave,

            First of all, that statement isn’t entirely true in Nassau County. It depends on which job sector you are looking at. LI’s job sector in the early 80’s and in the 3.5 decades preceding it was largely based on military production, which went largely out to the state of CA starting with Reagan in his 2nd term.

            However, that’s neither here nor there, as you are conflating the existence of jobs in an area to the ability for an area to have “corporate support” for their pro sports team, which is another animal, entirely. And Nassau County being very wealthy and right outside NYC is certainly able to have CFO’s/CEO’s/various executives from multinationals entertain at the NVMC. That was never truly an issue. The issue always has been giving the former types a reason to want to do so.

  2. I doubt it i any specific thing. It is more just about the amount of money the building can produce and the opportunity cost of settling for something like that when you will be able to fleece a better deal out of someone else.

    If playing hockey in a 8000 seat arena with no luxury boxes produced more money they would do that.

  3. So if by some way the Islanders do get a new arena in Belmont Park what exactly would be the odds of the Sound Tigers moving to the Coliseum?

    • It’s land next to the racetrack:

      https://cdn.esd.ny.gov/subsidiaries_projects/Data/Belmont/BelmontFinalReport/BELMONT0-12.pdf

      • Neil,

        Sorry to risk sounding a bit obtuse here, but where exactly would they put the building? Would it be Parcel A connecting to the grandstand – like the Racino was to have been or Parcel B in lovely Cambria Heights (no offense to the good people of Cambria Heights, but… – well it’s just as nice as Uniondale, I suppose – and better Chinese food, but I digress) – I don’t believe that I understand what it is exactly I’m looking at in the 08′ RFP map.

        • They haven’t specified. And I suppose it’s always possible that the new RFP will even include different parcels than the old one, though I doubt it.

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