Like a puck in a rink, the New York Islanders pro-hockey team has seemed to careen around the region in recent years in pursuit of a long-term home.
Based for decades in an aged coliseum in the Nassau County hamlet of Uniondale, the team glided over to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2015 in search of an upgrade, but dogged by poor game attendance, has continued the quest for a new place to skate.
That changed in December. After a public bidding process, Gov. Andrew Cuomo selected a plan in which developers would build a new arena for the Islanders, plus an entertainment complex, at Belmont Park, the historic horse-racing track, which sits on state-owned land in the hamlet of Elmont.
The state and many local business leaders are celebrating the decision to relocate the team as a way of spurring the local economy while improving Belmont Park, which has suffered from low attendance in recent decades. But critics say it won’t fix the fortunes of Elmont, since people who attend hockey games probably won’t stray outside the park’s green fence to grab dinner.
Overall, local real estate industry insiders say that both the upsides the and downsides are probably being exaggerated.
“To boil it down: You do not get a Disney World effect,” said Paul Fetscher, a senior adviser with Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT. Although tax revenues should rise as a result of the development, Fetscher noted that arenas promised as economic saviors in Commack and West Hempstead decades ago were ultimately razed and replaced by shopping centers.
The Real Deal dug into the facts of the work in progress to see how the development could shape up.
The entities that will develop the project are billed as New York Arena Partners:
Scott Malkin Group: The owner of this Greenwich, Conn.-based outlet mall developer, Scott Malkin, bought the Islanders team with close friend Jon Ledecky for $485 million in 2014.
Sterling Equities: The Manhattan-based developer has built such high-rises as 575 Fifth Avenue and owns the New York Mets baseball team.
Oak View Group: This Los-Angeles-based developer specializes in arenas, and its chief executive officer, Tim Leiweke, spent years with AEG Worldwide, the Los Angeles-based entertainment-venue owner and operator.
Madison Square Garden Company: The company that controls Manhattan’s 21,000-seat Madison Square Garden also owns the New York Rangers hockey team and New York Knicks basketball team. The Elmont plan would allow MSGC to compete with the existing major stage on Long Island, the14,000-seat Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which is owned
by Mikhail Prokhorov and Bruce Ratner.
The terms: The New York Arena Partners have pledged to spend $1 billion in private funds on new facilities. They also agreed to pay the state $49 million for 36 acres in a 49-year lease.
What they’ll do: The partners plan to redevelop 43 acres, most of which previously served as underutilized parking spaces. They’ll build a 60,000-square-foot, 18,000-seat arena next to the park’s grandstand. The plan includes 435,000 square feet of retail space for shops and restaurants, as well as a 193,000-square-foot hotel with as many as 250 rooms.
Timeline: Construction is set to start at the end of 2018 with a projected finish in 2021.
THE STUMBLING BLOCKS
Transportation: For many locals, regular service to the Belmont Park LIRR station — which does not currently operate full time — is critical to their acceptance of the arena plan. “We will hold firm on this issue, and if we don’t get it, we won’t be a happy community,” said Aubrey Phillips, the vice president of the Parkhurst Civic Association, an advocacy group that is against the current plan. MTA Chairman Joe Lhota indicated that a fix isn’t likely, announcing in January that the Hicksville line is already at capacity and the way the Belmont “spur” is configured makes regular service difficult.
Infrastructure issues: So far, the plan does not adequately deal with “substandard infrastructure” at the track, such as its drafty, unheated grandstand, according to state Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, who represents the area. The “dilapidated” condition of Hempstead Turnpike, a cause of concern in the neighborhood, should also be addressed, Solages said.
The competition: Just a short distance away, the 46-year-old Nassau Coliseum underwent a $165 million, 18-month renovation that wrapped up last year. The windswept 77 acres around it are supposed to eventually be made over to create a mixed-use shopping district like the Belmont proposal. On Jan. 29, the Islanders said that starting that next season, the team would divide its time between Barclays and Nassau Coliseum, playing about 48 games in each location starting in the 2019-2020 season. Cuomo promised $6 million to bring Nassau up to snuff for
hockey games and $25 million for parking.