Islanders arena could be put on hold until someone figures out how to build $300m train station

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.


6 comments on “Islanders arena could be put on hold until someone figures out how to build $300m train station

  1. How many different arena plans have the Islanders had by now? Spano had a plan, then the Mets stadium was supposed to be a retractable dome that could accommodate basketball and hockey, then Barclays was originally going to be a true dual purpose arena, there was the lighthouse plane, then there was a 2011 ballot issue for another plan in Nassau, a new arena in Queens was thrown around after early returns for the move to Barclays were poor, now Blemont. So that’s 7. Did I miss any?

  2. Didn’t this very site post images and discussions of the ‘traffic’ and rail problems at Belmont that would be geometrically impossible to solve to address the concerns brought forward by the representatives?

    I mean, if you make cost a trifling consideration (as some projects have done) sure, you can do anything you want. But building an elevated mobius strip railway loop for passenger trains 100′ over commercial and residential buildings is certainly going to cost somebody some serious cash… and I’m betting the Islanders owners won’t be eager to pay that.

    Unless the transit improvements demanded are ‘heavily revised’ (read: abandoned), isn’t this likely to be just another non-starting arena plan for the Islanders?

    And even if some improvements are made to district transit access at the Belmont park/Elmont site, will it be enough to make an arena on this site viable?

    At some point, doesn’t fixing the legitimate transit issues at the Nassau coliseum become cheaper than fixing this site?

    • Yep, that story and those images are linked above from “maybe impossible.”

      “Unless the transit improvements demanded are ‘heavily revised’ (read: abandoned), isn’t this likely to be just another non-starting arena plan for the Islanders?”

      Right, that’s what I meant by “and not just planned by then.” Comrie can still always save face if the MTA puts out a document that says, “Full-time train service, sounds good, we’ll get right on that, sure,” and then be out of office by the time it never happens. I didn’t get a sense of whether he was planning to stick to his guns or not — his message was “I am going to insist on this, but it will be no problem getting it done,” which is plainly false.

  3. What is the significance of it being 7-day train service? Is the area short of transit options and this is just an opportunity to rectify that? Otherwise, I don’t see why a stadium there would require trains on days there weren’t events happening.

    • It’s an arena + hotel + retail, so it would be useful to have transit 24/7. Mostly for arena events, sure, but that’s still way more than the handful of weekends a year that the racetrack is open.

  4. Johnny Podres played for the San Diego Padres in 1969. Another amazing co-incidence. :>)