New York state reveals $27.6m in Islanders arena tax breaks, more still hidden?

Big news, everybody! Just over five months after I filed a Freedom of Information Law request asking how much in property tax breaks the state of New York is providing to the new New York Islanders arena at Belmont Park, I finally got a reply! And the documents provided are:

No explanation was provided for why it took five months to send one page of a document — In New York state, FOIL requests are supposed to be fulfilled within 20 days, unless the agency receiving the request has a good reason to take longer — but never mind! We now finally have some more information about the size of the tax breaks being handed out to the arena developers, and they total about $27.6 million in present value (see the numbers at the bottom) over the next 20 years, as the level of payments in lieu of taxes slowly rise to the full property-tax rate.

Except! You’ll note that this is just the tax breaks on the hotel, retail, and office space part of the complex. The arena itself, it’s previously been reported, will pay a “guaranteed minimum annual payment” of $1 million, based in some unexplained way on ticket sales, and escalating each year, again by an unexplained percentage. The state Empire State Development FOIL office didn’t provide projections for these arena PILOT numbers or how much of a discount they’ll represent from normal property-tax rates, so we really still have no idea how much of a total tax break the project will be getting, except that it’s at minimum $27.6 million and potentially a whole lot more than that.

If you’re scoring at home, this now leaves us with a total state subsidy of:

  • $41 million in grants and the value of a no-interest state loan for a new train station to service the arena
  • $27.6 million in tax breaks for the retail/office/hotel development
  • ??? in tax breaks for the arena
  • –$50 million in upfront lease payments from the developers for the land
  • +??? for whatever the land is actually worth, which the state says is $35.9 million to $41 million, but other estimates show could potentially be anywhere from $80 million to $300 million higher than that (I have another FOIL request pending on the land appraisal)

So add it all up, and it’s at least $54 million, and likely a good bit more, though whether “a good bit” means a few tens of millions or hundreds of millions is anyone’s guess. And as that’d make the difference between “not the worst arena deal in the world in terms of public subsidies” and “actually, maybe one of the worst arena deals in the world in terms of public subsidies,” we’re really going to have to wait until those two sets of questions marks above are filled in. Hopefully soon! Or at least before the arena is scheduled to open in October 2021, which looks pretty unlikely given that that’s only 21 months away and right now the arena site is still mostly a mud pit, but we’ll see!

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2 comments on “New York state reveals $27.6m in Islanders arena tax breaks, more still hidden?

  1. The islanders late owner wanted to rebuild Nassau with his own money. Certain dumb fucks who couldn’t read decided no, we as tax payers would rather pay higher taxes. Mission accomplished. Can’t complain now 20 years later should have voted then. The islanders owner was going to spend his own money. Ny went out bought new stadiums for everyone in the northeast. The islanders are behind the Yankees for the only 2 teams in NY worth even paying to watch on tv. This article you wrote just about 15 years too late.

    1. I agree with you 100% ( especially about the Yankees and Islanders being the only teams in NY worth watching on TV). I do think a reason why the Islanders and for that matter the Angels deal in Anaheim got done in 2019 is timing. What timing you may ask? To quote Elvis “it’s now or never.” Why? There is a possibility that Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren ( although less likely) could become President and Ocasio-Cortez may become House Speaker, thus deals like this may become a thing of the past so getting these deals done was of importance because they may not get another chance ( ask Amazon about it).

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