Islanders win right to build arena at Belmont Park, now have to say how they’ll pay for it

The state of New York is set to pick the winning bid to develop land next to Belmont Park racetrack and, SPOILER ALERT, it’s gonna be the New York Islanders‘ arena plan:

The hockey team was informed Tuesday that its proposal to build a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont was selected as the winning bid, according to people familiar with the situation…

The Islanders’ bid includes an 18,000-seat, year-round arena that would host 150 events annually as well as 435,000-square feet of space for retail, a hotel with 200 to 250 rooms and a 10,000-square foot “innovation center” that would be developed with resident input.

So, whee, the Islanders are finally giving up on the failed Brooklyn experiment and getting a new arena closer to their Long Island fanbase, right? Yeah, well, maybe. Getting permission to use the Belmont Park land was always going to be the easy part; actually coming up with money to build the thing will be another story. Yes, the team’s owners have partnered with the Mets owners and Oak View Group, the company run by former AEG honcho Tim Leiweke and Madison Square Garden, and have vowed that the private partners are “fully committed to financing the arena.” And yes, it’s possible they might even want to do that, if only as a way of getting a leg up in the ongoing war for arena dominance between the region’s major sports operators, though it’ll cost them big, and there’s no guarantee that a Belmont arena will outdraw Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and its affiliated Nassau Coliseum for concerts and such.

So when the announcement does come later today — or at least when the Islanders owners have to declare whether they’re opting out of their Brooklyn lease, in January — there are two things we should keep an eye out for in particular:

  • What are the terms of the lease for the racetrack land? This is a hugely valuable piece of state property, so if the Islanders owners and their partners are getting it for anything less than market value, that’d be a giveaway by taxpayers.
  • Will there be any tax kickbacks or other hidden subsidies? None have been hinted at so far, but then, they’ve had no reason to when it would only risk pissing people off. Not requiring the Islanders to pay property taxes (or payments in lieu of them, if the land remains state-owned and off the tax rolls), or kicking back tax receipts in some kind of tax-increment plan are the two main concerns, but your imagination is the limit here.

I don’t want to get too negative: If the Islanders are actually paying their way, this could be a good solution for a franchise that shortsightedly succumbed to the lure of Brooklyn hipness and impulsively moved to an arena that’s terrible for hockey and nowhere near where most of its fans live — not to mention a way of getting a new arena for the tristate area by parlaying a turf war among would-be arena operators into an actually reasonable bid, not too far from what Seattle did. But as history shows that there’s often another shoe to drop with these “we’re gonna build an arena and pay for it ourselves!!!” announcements, I’m going to wait for more details before giving this an unhesitant thumbs up.

23 comments on “Islanders win right to build arena at Belmont Park, now have to say how they’ll pay for it

  1. Neil, I normally agree with you 100%. On this I disagree with your assessment that the Islanders “shortsightedly succumbed to the lure of Brooklyn hipness”. In my view they took the best of a bunch of bad options…the lease on the Coliseum was up and there was no way after such bad blood with SMG that the team was extending that lease for one minute. Brooklyn was an imperfect option at best, but it allowed the team to remain in the metro area. In the long run, it allowed for this deal at Belmont, which never would have been reached if the Islanders had gone to Kansas City or Quebec City.

  2. Yup, paying off the governor was the easy part. I hear the NHL want Mario to run things in Arizona, Ottawa and Calgary.

  3. Oh, I forgot to include “demand a ton of subway upgrades even while the rest of the system falls apart” as a possible subsidy option, even though I’ve written about it before:

    I see the Islanders winning the bid is official now, not spotting any details of what the bid included for financial/lease terms yet…

  4. I forsee this deal having major issues.

    Where in the NYS budget will they find the money to pay for this if they do decide to have taxpayers pay for it.

    I’m not sure if this going to fly well with Nassau taxpayers.

    I’m also sure the residents in Elmont are going to fight like hell to prevent this from being built. I will be surprised if it a shovel hits the ground within 2-3 years.

    • People are saying its a done deal since its state land but what are the odds of people in Elmont suing the state to potentially stop this?

  5. If the resulting drama to come forth from this ends with the Sound Tigers calling Uniondale home I’ll be okay with whatever happens.

  6. I am sure you will have activists complaining and perhaps suing, but this is a done deal. Why? Two reasons: 1: This is New York State owned land and he reality of the matter is the land @ Belmont Park has sat unused for 50 years (except during Belmont Stakes day), so it is not like they are taking people’s homes and businesses like in Brooklyn (and in that case, the State still won in Court (good luck in Court)).. 2: With the exception of Roosevelt, the Village of Elmont might be the most economically disadvantaged area in Nassau County (this includes Hempstead and the 11580 part of Freeport), so they can use jobs.

    • The land is currently being used for racetrack parking, so not entirely unused.

      Anyway, “done deal” in terms of getting rights to the land, undoubtedly. “Done deal” in terms of getting the money lined up, I am significantly more skeptical until I hear some specifics.

      • I am aware that they need to pay for the facility, but I am confident they have the funding lined up. Why? 1: They beat out a bid by NYCFC which is owned by the owners of Manchester City, who are billionaires. 2: They have multiple investors lined up. Actually, the biggest problem might be the Cross Island on games (except the Van Wyck (heading to Kennedy) it might be the most congested highway in NY).

      • At least there is no eminent domain abuse as at Barclays or questions of parkland being misused as at Yankee Stadium. I’ll takebthat at least.

  7. The Brooklyn decisions were always going to be mistakes… first through failing to partner financially with FCR when the building was being designed as a two sport venue (leading to Ratner’s redesign) and second in agreeing to move there when they new the facility was totally unsuitable for hockey.

    The lighthouse project was never a viable option for the former owner. Even he should have been able to see that.

    If the move to Brooklyn was really about “building a fan base”, they would have planned on a longer term fan wooing project… two seasons + construction phase (if the Belmont arena actually happens) lame duck time is not the way to build a fan base anywhere.

    This is an organization that continually trips over it’s own feet. Hopefully the new(ish) owners will rectify this over time, but their arena “plight” is just another example of management failure within the organization.

  8. I am an Islander fan, who is elated they are not going to Quebec. I am also interested in the upgrading of Belmont. I wonder, if the Islander deal/Belmont upgrade will be step one in a plan to shut down the Big A, and sell it off? That might be the place for a soccer stadium for NYCFC (not to mention better horse racing then cold desolate Ozone Park)?.

    • The big A would be even worse location for a stadium than Belmont Park. It’s why the Red bulls passed on it years back. Fact is Belmont was just a plan C or even D while exploring other deals. Remember the bids we’re non binding. NYCFC would have lost have their fan base if the club would have moved to Long island. The Millennials fan base would never allow themselves to be disrespected like the Islanders move to Brooklyn.

  9. I’m an Elmont native who still lives close by. This will produce jobs, abeit concession stand jobs and the like, and shopping mall jobs. It might the best use of the property that actually can happen. I know it was suggested for an Amazon headquarters but how likely was that?

    Have racing at Belmont eleven months a year (one month at Saratoga) and turn the Big A racetrack into the soccer stadium or whatever the best use of the site is. They will probably need to keep the casino there though, there’s been a lot of investment in that and it makes money. The horses are stabled at Belmont anyway.

    Public money will definitely be needed for the LIRR and highway improvements. Let’s see how long tit takes to find out how much money. How much did the new Yankee Stadium MetroNorth station cost?

    • Yankee Stadium Metro-North station cost $39m, but I believe there was already a siding there that just needed a platform and stairs built:

  10. Congratulations to the Islanders owners who were able to convince the ESDC to give them the right to build an arena at Belmont and most importantly to obtain the necessary private financing.

    The move to Brooklyn could never work unless Prokharov was willing to spend the necessary money to upgrade the facility for hockey-which in reality he never was.

    The money wasted on renovating the Nassau Coliseum should have been used to upgrade the arena in Brooklyn.

    In Salt Lake City (after the Jazz’ present arena was built) the city converted the old arena (i.e., the Salt Palace) into a convention center.

    When the Elmont arena opens Nassau County should do the same or the Nassau Coliseum will wind up being closed and unused like the arena in East Rutherford.

    In addition, the NBA has mandated the the Nets new owners negotiate a lease for the Barclays Center before the sale of the team will be approved.

    Do not be surprised if the Nets new owner starts to negotiate to move the team to Belmont to play in the new arena if negotiations stall.

    The Pistons moved to the Red Wings new arena although it was designed for hockey and is not really amenable for an NBA team.

    Stay tuned.

  11. If Tavares leaves and Ledecky and Wang ask for $500MM or something crazy they’ll be screwed after snubbing Barclays and may end up with an arena hole for years.

    Bettman has said repeatedly the coliseum isn’t an option and the management company remodeled it and it has less seats than the Barc. I’d imagine other NHL owners will go ballistic if the Isles try to move to a minor league arena.

    It will be very interesting to see what is to come from this debacle.

  12. Also this is really reminiscent of the Bucks three stadium photo. The Isles want their own arena, so they move to another arena to demand their own arena built ~10m from their own arena.

    Beware the “Arena industrial complex.”

  13. As a reminder, there was never a chance the team would move out of the New York area. That highly lucrative television contract that goes for at least another decade assured that