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.