NHL Team Wins Bid To Develop Land At Belmont Park With 18,000-Seat Arena

ELMONT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York Islanders fans are excited by the news that the team, which moved to Brooklyn in 2015, has won a bid to build a new arena on Long Island.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials announced the deal on Wednesday, saying the Islanders won a bid to develop the land on the grounds of the Belmont Park horse track.

“It is a big win for the fans because it’s much easier to get here than to get to the Barclays Center. This will be more of a full game experience,” Cuomo said. “It is a win for the team. They’re going to have their own arena — 18,000-seat arena that is designed for the Islanders by the Islanders and it’s going to be all theirs.”

In addition to the arena, the plan includes community space, a shopping hub and a hotel. It also calls for 150 nights of events and turning the Long Island Rail Road stop at Belmont from seasonal service to full time, WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz reported.

“To the great community to Elmont, this will be more than an arena,” Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said. “This will be economic development.”

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, Long Island all-stars from on and off the ice – including Billy Joel – were present for the historic announcement.

“We put a goal in the net like we did today,” said Islanders owner John Ledecky.

The goal in is a new economic gateway to Long Island, and a new state-of-the-art home for the team after its unpopular move to Brooklyn two years ago.

“I always felt when the Islanders left, it left a hole in the heart of Long Island,” Cuomo said “Today is a win, win, win.”

The team played at the Nassau Coliseum from its inception in 1972 until 2015, winning the Stanley Cup every year from 1980 to 1983. The move to the Brooklyn arena was greeted with displeasure by fans, who always considered the team to be a Long Island staple.

Adding to the problems is the fact that Barclays Center was not built with hockey in mind, so there are hundreds of obstructed-view seats scattered around the arena.

Not surprisingly, fans applauded the news that the team would be headed back across the city limits to Nassau County.

“It’s long overdue,” Matt Herbert said during the Islanders’ 5-3 loss to Detroit on Tuesday night.

“My dad has been going to all the games since he was a kid,” fan Taylor Martello told CBS2’s Magdalena Doris. “Hasn’t been going to one game since and we’re all just really excited about it.”

“Awesome, I’m psyched about it,” a fan named Ryan told 1010 WINS’ John Montone. “It was a pain to go all the way to Brooklyn and back. It’s a Long Island team.”

“I could not be happier!” a fan told Gusoff. “It’s like Christmas for everybody.”

The 18,000-seat arena will be built next to the Belmont racetrack. There will also be a premium hotel, retail, dining, and major upgrades to the Long Island Rail Road station – along with community space.

It will amount to a massive investment in some long-vacant lots that for decades have been used sporadically by the racetrack and stored dealership cars. But Elmont residents who oppose any sports arena vow to fight on.

“A lot traffic and congestion and quality of our lives will go down,” said Elmont community activist Ali Mirza. “Values of homes will go down.”

“There still has to be environmental and community reviews, and the community will have a seat at the table,” said New York state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Rockville Centre).

And can the market support yet another arena — just eight miles from the just-renovated Nassau Coliseum?

“I think the population is there for two arenas to work, and I think it all depends on the quality of the acts,” said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association.

“I don’t see where the problem would be,” one resident said. “The have Belmont race track, Belmont Stakes — the whole town turns into a big party.”

Cheering perhaps the loudest Wednesday was a team whose future has been uncertain for years.

“We are going to have a home that’s long and permanent — built for the Islanders,” said Islanders captain John Tavares.

The Islanders submitted a development bid to the state for a portion of the Belmont complex back in in late September. The team’s development group includes the owners of the New York Mets, and Madison Square Garden. A spokesman for the partners declined comment on Tuesday.

The state-run Empire State Development Corp. announced in July a request for proposals to develop 36 acres of vacant and underutilized parking lots at the site of the racetrack. The state also solicited bids to develop the land in 2012, but wound up scrapping all proposals a year ago.

Also bidding was New York City Football Club soccer team, which envisioned building a 26,000-seat, open-air stadium on the site in Elmont. The Major League Soccer team is partially owned by the New York Yankees.

“New York City Football Club was happy to be a finalist in the Empire State Development decision, and we congratulate the New York Islanders on their winning bid,” an NYCFC spokesman said in a statement. “We will continue to be very active in our pursuit of a new soccer-specific stadium.”

The Islanders are in their third season at Barclays. The team has an opt-out clause in its lease and can leave as early as after this season.

Either side can terminate the deal effective at the end of the 2018-19 season. However, the Islanders and Barclays are reportedly trying to work out a short-term lease that would keep the team in Brooklyn while the Belmont arena is being built.

It will ultimately be up to the NHL commissioner to decide where the team plays for the next two years, but Cuomo said he will score some home games at the Nassau Coliseum to bring the Islanders home even sooner.

The NHL commissioner in the past has opposed the team playing at the renovated Coliseum, because it can now only seat 13,000 fans.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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