Islanders to split games between Brooklyn and Nassau while awaiting Belmont Park arena — which may have a train problem

The New York Islanders made it official yesterday: Until their new Belmont Park arena is ready in 2021-ish, they’ll split time between Brooklyn and Nassau County, with 12 home games (out of 41) at the Nassau Coliseum next season and a total of 48 (out of 82) over the following two seasons. (Though those numbers could also include a few exhibition games; the announcement wasn’t super clear.)

If you’re wondering why the Islanders will still play any games in Brooklyn at all when the team owners hate the place and the feeling is mutual, team owner Jon Ledecky spelled that out:

“To be a max cap salary team you have to maximize revenue,” he said. “The Coliseum amenities are not as good as Barclays. There are over 100 suites at Barclays and less than a dozen here. Nassau Coliseum does not have an optimal situation at this point.”

In other words, we can make more money in Brooklyn, even if our fans hate it and we do too. But at least by splitting the difference Ledecky and his partners can avoid alienating fans further while waiting for that new arena to open.

And, oh yeah, about that new arena: The Village Voice’s Aaron Gordon has been looking at the possibilities for running Long Island Railroad trains there on a regular basis, as Ledecky is insisting the state of New York pay for, and discovered that this may run up against the bounds of the physical universe.

Currently, [Center for Transportation Research at University of Tennessee, Knoxville director David] Clarke says, there are no switches east of Belmont that allow trains to navigate the tracks in such a way that allow them to get to Belmont. The only option using existing infrastructure would be, as Clarke put it, to “zigzag”: overshoot the Y connection by a few hundred feet and then reverse across the switches to get to the Belmont spur. It would be like a three-point turn in the middle of a highway, but for a train.

And it gets worse: The LIRR could install new switches to the east of Belmont Park to avoid this zigzag solution, but thanks to a bridge over a highway immediately adjacent to the racetrack, this would require running westbound trains on eastbound tracks for a long stretch. During rush hour.

Then there’s the problem that even if a defunct rail spur were activated to get fans from Long Island to Belmont, the layout of the tracks would mean most of them would have to switch trains at a little-used station that would need massive upgrades to handle the surge of passengers, and … you know, just read the whole thing, it’s worth it. Suffice to say that when the MTA says it can’t begin to guess how much this will end up costing taxpayers, it probably has good reasons to.

Friday roundup: Islanders close to Nassau deal, Olympic stadium to be razed after four uses, and it’s rethink your MLS stadium site week!

And in other stadium and arena news this week:

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!

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.

Friday roundup: A’s won’t give up on Laney, Isles could play “some” games at Coliseum, more!

Tons of stray news items this week, so let’s get right to them:

  • The Rhode Island state senate’s finance committee approved $44 million in spending by the state and city of Pawtucket for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, which is what everyone expected, because the real opposition is in the state house. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said that if the bill passes the Senate, “it will be assigned to the House Finance Committee and be given a public hearing,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but then, Mattiello has been saying consistently that his constituents hate this plan.
  • Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval said that the team owners have “identified three final locations” for a new stadium, and … they’re the same three sites the team announced more than a year ago, even after Laney College officials since took themselves out of the running. “We spent a lot of time getting it to three final sites, and those are the sites that are viable,” Kaval told reporters. Props for sticking to your convictions, I guess, but there’s a time to go to a Plan B, and it’s maybe after Plan A told you, “Get offa our lawn.”
  • The city of Liverpool is set to spend £280 million on a new stadium for Everton F.C., four years after saying no to a similar plan, but Mayor Joe Anderson defends the plan as a loan that the team will repay and more. The Guardian reports that “the city council could make £7m-a-year profit from interest charged on a loan of £280m over 25 years, plus extra revenue from business rates and related developments once the stadium is up and running” — which sounds good if the profit is guaranteed just from the loan payments (the city would reportedly have first dibs on Everton team revenue), not so much if it would rely on those “related developments,” which could be stuff that would happen with or without a new stadium. As is so often the case, it all comes down to what that comma means.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman toured Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, after which New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky said he was “confident” that “some games” would be played there while waiting for a new Belmont Park arena to be built, but that playing full seasons there would be “difficult.” So that would imply … some games in Nassau and some in Brooklyn, since the two arenas have the same owner? Some in Nassau and some at Madison Square Garden, which is set to help build the new arena? Some in Nassau and some on a frozen-over East River after that ice age that the American Museum of Natural History seems to think is imminent hits? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • A Unitarian minister writes in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer that if the Charlotte city council is going to spend money on a new Carolina Panthers stadium, it should be required to build affordable housing, too. My theology is shaky at best, so I’m not sure what Unitarianism has to say about a right canceling out a wrong.
  • Speaking of North Carolina, the Hurricanes got a new owner this week, and in his first few hours as head of the team, he didn’t demand a new arena or threaten to move the team without one. Though that may have more to do with the team’s sweetheart lease on its current arena that last through 2024, which had led former owner Peter Karmanos to say in 2015 that “we’d have to be idiots to move from here,” so give the new guy a few more hours, at least.
  • This. You’re welcome.

Islanders may not be ready to open new Belmont arena until 2022

Here’s the latest proposed timeline for the New York Islanders‘ new arena project next to Belmont Park, courtesy of Newsday’s Jim Baumbach:

As Metro NY notes, if the team can’t break ground on the arena until mid-2019, then it might not open until fall of 2021 or even 2022, which would mean a bunch of years playing in an interim home, likely at Nassau Coliseum.

None of this should be any surprise: It’s a project on state land, so has to go through the SEQR process just like the Nets‘ Brooklyn arena did, and that’s a year-plus timeline. If anything, I’d think the arena development group may need the time to get their financing ducks in a row — it’s possible they’ve lined up private loans and such already, but also possible they were leaving that until after they had formal approval to build at the Belmont Park site — not to mention figure out who’ll pay for increased train service to the arena, and how much they’ll pay in payments in lieu of taxes to the state, and how much of a break on the land costs they’ll get courtesy of state taxpayers. Oh wait, that last one is already determined: a whole heck of a lot. One hopes that this year-plus break will give local reporters the time to investigate the deal to see what the likely public costs will actually be, but one doesn’t hope all that hard, given past performance.

Friday roundup: Panthers stadium rumors, Isles temporary arena plans, and Project Wolverine

It’s the first news roundup of 2018! Please remember to stop writing “2017” on all your stadium-subsidy checks.

  • The Carolina Panthers haven’t even been sold yet following owner Jerry Richardson’s resignation amid sexual harassment complaints, and already Charlotte news outlets are wondering where a new owner would put the new stadium that they would no doubt demand. The Panthers’ current stadium is 24 years old. Yes, human civilization is doomed.
  • The Rhode Island state senate has tweaked its Pawtucket Red Sox stadium proposal, giving the city of Pawtucket a flat $250,000-a-year cut of naming rights fees instead of 50% of whatever the team got, and clarifying that the team would pay overruns on construction costs, but not land acquisition costs. The PawSox owners released a statement calling this “encouraging,” while House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he has “sensed resistance with the public” to putting $38 million in public cash into the deal. It looks likely that this is still headed for another Senate-House standoff, in other words.
  • New Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter has a plan code-named Project Wolverine (for Jeter’s home state of Michigan, not the X-Man) that projects windfall profits by getting Fox to give the team a massive new TV deal and attendance to spike despite selling off all his best players. This has nothing to do with stadiums except to remind everyone that giving former owner Jeffrey Loria a new ballpark at taxpayer expense was a waste of close to a billion dollars, and getting Loria to sell to Jeter doesn’t seem to have raised hopes any of having management that isn’t delusional or focused solely on squeezing every last dollar of profit possible from a franchise that will forever be selling off any players as soon as they figure out how to play baseball. Miami might have been better off keeping its money and using it to buy residents plane tickets to go see a real baseball team.
  • NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the league “wouldn’t rule out” the New York Islanders playing games temporarily at Nassau Coliseum while a new arena at Belmont Park is under construction, which makes sense, because why would they? Sure, the Coliseum now only holds 13,000 for hockey games after its renovation, but the Islanders’ current home of the Barclays Center only holds 15,795, and at least the Coliseum doesn’t have its ice all off-center. Plus, the Islanders aren’t drawing even 13,000 a game anyway, so it’ll just be a matter of fewer empty seats until the new arena is opened, which we still don’t know when that would be, do we? It’ll be interesting to see what kind of lease Coliseum owner Mikhail Prokhorov offers to the Islanders owners — on the one hand, they’re threatening to go off and build a new arena that will compete with his, but on the other, he pretty badly wants them out of the Barclays Center, so it’s anybody’s guess.

Islanders to pay one-tenth as much per acre for Belmont arena as Aqueduct land goes for

When I tried to do some quick-and-dirty estimates last week of how much of a sweetheart deal the New York Islanders owners will be getting on state-owned land at Belmont Park for a new arena, I came up with a discount of anywhere from 52-87%. (Or, put another way, the land is likely worth anywhere from double to eight times what the Islanders are paying for it.) Now, Norman Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report has come up with another comparable to use as a basis for estimating the land’s true value: a 67-acre parcel at nearby (sort of) Aqueduct Park that was leased to a video lottery terminal company starting in 2010. Oder shows all his math in his own post, but let’s cut to the final numbers that count here:

Aqueduct: $189,055 per acre each year

Belmont: $18,984 per acre each year

So the Islanders owners’ consortium will be pay almost precisely one-tenth per acre what racetrack land on the other side of Queens went for seven years ago. That’s not enough to definitively say “Islanders should be paying ten times as much for arena land as they are” or anything, but the more data points we get here, the more we can say that this proposed lease looks real bad for taxpayers, man. And that’s before even getting to those Long Island Railroad costs.

Isles’ “privately funded” arena could get cheap land, new rail line at taxpayer expense

It’s official: A development consortium made up of the owners of the New York Islanders, Sterling Equities (owners of the Mets), Madison Square Garden (owner of the Knicks and Rangers), and Oak View Group (builders of Seattle’s renovated KeyArena) won permission to build a new hockey arena and mixed-use development in a parking lot adjacent to the state-owned Belmont Park racetrack. And while Islanders owner Jon Ledecky declined to say how much the arena would cost, he did promise, “We’re not looking for government funds.”

We have heard that before, though, and it doesn’t always work out so well — remember that a Yankees exec promised that that team’s new stadium would be built with “no public subsidies,” and then it wound up getting more than a billion dollars worth. And while there’s no sign that the Islanders deal will turn out to be the biggest sports handout in history like that one did, there are several places where it could end up tapping significant public dollars.

For starters, the Islanders group will be leasing the Belmont Park land from the state, so as I noted yesterday, one big question is whether they’ll pay full market value. And the answer appears to be not by a long shot:

Marshall, who is a member of Newsday’s editorial board, hasn’t circled back to confirm this yet (UPDATE: Norman Oder tweets that the state has confirmed to him that it’s just $40 million total), but assuming she’s correct, $40 million over 49 years is an absolutely pathetic payment for 43 acres of land. That’s maybe $10-15 million in present value — here’s a tenth-of-an-acre vacant lot in nearby Floral Park that’s going for $729,000, which would imply that the Belmont Park property should be worth around $313 million, or more than 20 times what the Islanders are paying for it. (If you use this exceptionally hideous lot as a comparable instead, it’s only worth six times what the Islanders are paying, but that’s still not good.)

(UPDATE #2: Oder has updated his Bridge article to note that the state says $40 million is “the upfront value over the term of the lease for the build out” — he sent me this quote from a state spokesperson, it’s not in the article verbatim. So if it’s lease payments worth $40 million in present value, that’d amount to a taxpayer-subsidized discount of between $44 million and $273 million, depending on which nearby Zillow listing you go by.)

Marshall also notes that since the land will continue to be owned by the state, it won’t pay property taxes, but will instead pay payments in lieu of property taxes, aka PILOTs, and whether those will be as much as regular taxpayers would pay is “to be determined.”

And if $300 million in lease breaks isn’t worrisome enough, there’s also the matter of getting fans to the new arena, which is currently served only by a part-time rail spur off the Long Island Rail Road, something the state has promised to upgrade to full-time service at taxpayer expense. How much taxpayer expense? As Aaron Gordon reports for the Village Voice, even the state doesn’t know:

Despite the LIRR committing to “developing a plan to expand LIRR service to Belmont Park Station for events year-round,” according to the press release, a spokesperson for the MTA, which runs the LIRR, said the agency doesn’t have any accompanying cost estimates. Which is to say, the MTA has promised to provide a service for which they don’t know the actual cost.

So there are a lot of unknowns here, to say the least — and that’s if the Islanders even go ahead with the arena, which they’re sure acting like they will, but it’s an awfully expensive endeavor even with partners who have an incentive to pound the owners of the Barclays Center into dust by outmaneuvering them for concerts. (The Barclays group also operates the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum, which could be odd arena out for bookings if the Belmont arena happens.) Though the Barclays owners, for their part, seem less concerned about facing new competition than eager to get the Islanders away from taking up space at the Brooklyn arena and into their other venue on a temporary basis:

There are many, many shoes left to drop here. Let’s hope against hope that when it all shakes out, this looks more like the Seattle arena deal than the Yankees one, but I’m not holding my breath.

And, almost forgot: renderings! Renderings that look like they were done with a cheap tray of watercolors and no lessons in perspective (I especially like the building that bends in the middle, like the top part is toppling over), but given that “blurry” seems to be the name of the game with this project, it’s probably appropriate:



Islanders win right to build arena at Belmont Park, now have to say how they’ll pay for it

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.

Islanders and NYCFC shed no light whatever on their Belmont bids

There was a public “listening session” yesterday on plans for redeveloping land alongside Belmont Park, and both the New York Islanders and NYC F.C. made presentations, and “details” were “revealed,” according to the New York Post headline, and oh boy oh boy let’s see what we’ve got:

Reps for the NYCFC soccer organization, which currently plays at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, say the team’s plans for a 26,000-seat stadium at the Elmont, LI, site would also include 400,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space, 15.3 acres of open space, a 5-acre park and 2-acre soccer facility…

The Islanders’ plan calling for an 18,000-seat arena was revealed to include an entertainment hub, hotel and retail village.

Wait, that’s it? We already knew pretty much all that — not down to the tenth of an acre, sure, but “sports facility accompanied by other development” was both teams’ plan all along. No details about how this would be funded? No renderings? Come on, we gotta at least get some renderings!

That’s not a rendering! There aren’t even any fireworks or lens flare! This Monday sucks.

(Here’s a video of the Islanders’ developer talking about how he used to build snowmen with Mets co-owner Jeff Wilpon when they were kids, which is something, I guess.)