After a couple of articles reported that the New York Islanders‘ arena project at Belmont Park could be facing delays and increased opposition, I dug into it for Gothamist, and found an epic tale of the blind men and the elephant:
- Community activists in Elmont, the Long Island town that is home to Belmont Park (the similarity in names is apparently coincidental: Elmont was named in the 1880s while the racetrack was named 20 years later for New York City subway financier August Belmont) point to the fact that the final environmental impact statement now won’t be ready till late June at the earliest as a sign that clearly construction can’t start in the spring as originally projected, since the project will still need approvals from several state agencies, plus that land appraisal to see if New York state is really giving away $340 million in land for $40 million. Or as ammie Williams of the Belmont Park Community Coalition put it: “Now you’re telling me that a report is not going to be out till the end of June. But then you still have to put out the finding statement, and then you still have to wait for people to sue your ass.”
- Officials with the state-run Empire State Development corporation insist that this really isn’t a delay, since the EIS was always meant to be completed in second quarter 2019, and late June means it’ll get in just under the gun. “Last week, we reiterated the same timeline we’ve had since the beginning of this project, and we still anticipate final public approval in the second quarter of 2019,” said ESD spokesperson Jack Sterne. “In the meantime, we continue to explore the possibility of a full-time train station at Belmont.”
- About that train station: State senator Leroy Comrie, whose district abuts Belmont Park on the New York City side, last month issued a five-point list of “essential points [that] must be addressed before the ultimate fate of the project is decided,” including full-time rail service to the new arena complex from both points east and west. And this week, Comrie was nominated to the state Public Authorities Control Board, the same oversight board that killed the New York Jets‘ proposed Manhattan stadium in 2005 and more recently helped scare off Amazon from seeking $3 billion in tax breaks to locate in Queens. Only problem: Full-time rail service to Belmont Park is maybe impossible, or maybe just prohibitively expensive: Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Mitch Pally said that the agency had priced one option at a staggering $300 million for new tracks, signals, and the works.
- As for Comrie, he said he was “very confident” that his five conditions “are resolvable.” Still, he said, he didn’t see anything getting resolved until well into late 2019 — and possibly not until “the first quarter of next year.” That would almost certainly preclude an arena from opening until 2022.
None of this is a huge stumbling block necessarily — unless Comrie and other local elected officials genuinely insist on full-time train service being put in place by the time the arena opens and not just planned by then, in which case the geometry of space-time may be a problem. But put it all together and the odds of this Islanders plan happening seem like they’ve gone from “skids all greased” to “probable but who the hell knows.” It’s entirely possible that Islanders fans can look forward to several more seasons of not knowing which city their home games are in — that is, if the team’s owners can even talk Brooklyn’s Barclays Center into letting them stick around considering how much money the arena is losing on hosting hockey. Remind me why then-owner Charles Wang decided to move out of Nassau Coliseum for a basketball-designed arena nowhere near his team’s fan base? Oh, right: hissy fit.