Islanders owner says Cuomo will use state money for train upgrades to new arena

Newsday’s Jim Baumbach has again sat down with a calendar to calculate when a new New York Islanders arena might open, and again come up with a best-case scenario of the 2021-22 season, if construction can be completed in 26 months after the environmental impact study is done; if it takes longer than that, which is entirely possible, the Islanders might not move into their new home until 2022.

All of which is perfectly reasonable and we already pretty much knew. The more interesting bit is about increased train service to the new development, which Baumbach sheds a small bit of new light on:

ESD has begun talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about increasing service at Belmont’s Long Island Rail Road station, which is only part time. The Islanders’ proposal calls for a full-time station. [Islanders co-owner Jonathan] Ledecky said on WFAN radio Wednesday that [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo also will be involved with the LIRR aspect.

“There’s money in the budget according to the governor and his people,” Ledecky said. “We have to make sure that money gets spent and that station becomes a vital part of the community, not just when there is horse racing and not just when there is a concert or a game. All the time, 365 [days a year], 24 hours a day.”

Cuomo’s office, in response to a request for comment, referred back to a statement last month that said the LIRR “will develop a plan to modify service to accommodate New Yorkers for sporting and special events.” The LIRR reiterated in a statement this week that it is “committed to expanding service” at Belmont but did not offer specifics.

As Aaron Gordon reported last month for the Village Voice, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the LIRR, doesn’t even have a cost estimate for how much it will cost to extend full-time train service to Belmont, but clearly Ledecky is counting on the state to pay for it. Add in the steeply discounted land lease payments and possible breaks on property taxes and the public subsidy for this project has to be considered to fall in the category of “dunno, but it could be a whole helluva lot.” At least there’s a 16-month environmental review before this thing gets finalized; while the state will be focusing on things like how a new arena will affect traffic patterns, I’ll be over here trying to determine how the money will actually work. Stay tuned.

16 comments on “Islanders owner says Cuomo will use state money for train upgrades to new arena

  1. The reality of the matter is to make this project work, the train station is needed (far more then the Metro North Yankee Stadium stop was) . Why? Unless you want to run Shuttle busses from the Bellerose or Floral Park LIRR Stations, the only other ways to reach Belmont is via the Cross Island, Hempstead Turnpike (Nassau), and Hempstead Ave (Queens Village).

    • We can argue about how needed it is. The fanbase traveled to Nassau Coliseum on parkways with no public transit whatsoever and I would think most of the fanbase is not interested in taking a train to Jamaica to catch a connecting train to Belmont.

      But even if I concede that point, the issue isn’t necessity. It’s who should pay for it. If the station is being upgraded to service the Islanders, non-hockey fans shouldn’t have to pay for it, especially since the Islanders are already getting a massive discount on the land.

      • If you look at most of the teams that have been struggling to get new or even upgraded facilities (Rays, A’s, Flames, Senators, NYCFC, NE Revolution, and the Arizona 3 (Coyotes, Diamondbacks and Suns)), it goes back to a lack of effort by ownership and (or) political will to get something done. The case of the Islanders was no different: Both Gov. Cuomo and Islander ownership realized It was about Belmont Park or seeing the team in Houston or Quebec City. At the same time, Belmont will be upgraded (including winterizing he track), and shutting down and selling Aquaduct. If that means building an LIRR station then so be it/

        • The chances of the Islanders going to Houston or Quebec were within a hair’s breadth of zero, if only because they’d never be able to replicate New York’s cable revenues in either of those places.

      • Public transportation should be paid for by all the beneficiaries— users, of course, as well as the motorists who have less traffic on the roads because of all those people on the train. Mass transit, done right, benefits all. We subsidize roads far more than their value, so why not have an efficient mass transit line to an area that will attract large numbers of people?

        • Mass transit that only goes to one specific event venue mostly benefits the owners of that venue, though. When the Patriots got a new road built that would only be used by their season ticket holders, nobody pretended that it was as much of a public benefit as a new highway that actually went somewhere.

          • There’s no reason to assume that future LIRR improvements will benefit only the people who attend hockey games at the new arena. If the LIRR makes Belmont Park a full-time station with regular service, that will help everyone in the area who commutes by LIRR to jobs in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

            And if they somehow figure out a way to have trains coming from Long Island stop at Belmont Park without making passengers go to Jamaica and transfer to an eastbound train, this would bring a benefit to everyone in the region, and would spur development around the arena.

            The improvements to the subway station and the LIRR station near the Nets’ arena have served the general interest; perhaps the LIRR improvements near the Islanders’ new arena will do likewise.

          • Nobody lives at Belmont Park proper, and the Bellrose and Queens Village stops are very close to there. So what are you thinking, that it would help to have another park-and-ride option?

            I’m pretty sure it’s been determined there’s no way to avoid a Jamaica transfer thanks to the number of tracks there, but let me see if Aaron Gordon knows more about that.

          • I asked Aaron, the Village Voice transit reporter who investigated this last month, and he wrote back: “I’m 99 percent sure you can’t incorporate Belmont into regular route networks because of the way the tracks are at Belmont: one inbound and one outbound, with a terminus at the park. So you can’t have trains running in both directions from Belmont, it has to be one or the other, and it makes no sense to run trains only east from Belmont since there’s no transfer point. It has to be a shuttle to/from Jamaica.”

          • Ah, I see. Thank you for following up.

            These limitations would seem to suggest that any LIRR upgrades would primarily benefit the Islanders. That convinces me that the team should pay for most of the cost in this case.

    • No wonder Islanders fans were congratulating each other after the governor bribe paid off, not only a ton of free land, but operating subsidies forever.

  2. In other arena news:

    “When we get to the point of having something to say (about the arena search), we will say it,” he (Team President and CEO Steve Patterson) said.

  3. Transit and policing costs associated with sporting events are a contentious issue for some of us.

    Transit and policing are things that tax dollars routinely (and justifiably) are used for. Building stadia? Less so.

    As transit and policing are both public amenities, I would argue that increasing either is a benefit to the taxpayers (both spectators and residents) and not necessarily the sports franchise owners directly. It’s true that some franchise owners do agree to pay police overtime etc, however I’m not certain that is done out of a sense of social responsibility… plus, those same owners routinely offload arena expenses onto the taxpayers… potato/potahto(e)

    While I don’t like the notion of public funds paying for transit upgrades to lines/stations that only serve one purpose or business, the fact is that most new transit lines (which could include bus and train service as well as main artery roads) are put in place before the full capacity is needed for serving the existing customer base. If there is room for growth (residential and commercial) in the area the arena is supposed to be built, there may be justification for improved transit at public cost. If the improvements would only benefit the team owner, or if the area the stadium is built in is already fully developed there’s less upside from the public’s point of view.

    Not sure that 24 hour service would ever be completely necessary (not a New Yorker so….) in this location, but improved access might be. Does anyone other than Islander ownership benefit from transit upgrades here?

  4. This reminds me a bit of the “Parking Modernization” we got in Sacramento. The only things that got modernized were:

    1) Hours of operation were extended from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. in some areas, and to 8 p.m. in others.
    2) Parking meters are now in operation on holidays (they charged for meters on MLK day!).
    3) We got signs next to the elevators in City garages that said “Take a picture of me so you can more easily find your car!” (I swear I’m not making that up).
    4) We now have parking meters that reset because the meter mistakenly thought the cars moved. Many parking tickets are being successfully challenge.

    And the Bee no longer hides that parking rates were raised to pay for the arena, in spite of the fact that State law specifically states that parking revenues can be used only for traffic and safety management.

    And, oh, business is down in the arena over 10% already, when comparing any month to the same month the year before.

  5. Am I the only one who cannot understand why a hockey arena needs fulltime train service? Obviously send trains out on game nights (even if they may not be fully used), but how does a hockey team benefit from a peak AM train on a Tuesday morning in July?

    • Certainly not, Mark. It is pretty typical for even smallish cities to add transit service on event nights at sporting or performance facilities, just as they add trains/buses for morning and evening commutes.

      Perhaps the only difference here is that a major station upgrade would also be required?

      That’s why people are wondering if there is any non-sporting/arena need for increased transit to that area that would help to justify the public expenditure required.