ELMONT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s hardly the Dodgers going to Los Angeles, but another major sports franchise is leaving Brooklyn.
The New York Islanders, who moved from their suburban home to Brooklyn in 2015, have won a bid to build a new arena on the grounds of the Belmont Park horse track.
State officials confirmed the deal Wednesday ahead of a formal announcement at the racetrack, which is home to the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
“This is just a big, big day. This is a $1 billion investment being made today, and it’s going to create a lot of jobs,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
The Islanders beat out a bid from the New York City FC soccer team, which envisioned building a stadium on the site just east of New York City.
The Islanders 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. The team is last in average attendance this year in the league.
“When the Islanders left, they left a hole in the heart of Long Island,” Cuomo said. “Today is a win-win-win for the community. (Belmont Park) is an asset that has been underutilized for years. It’s a big win for the fans. This will be more of a full-game experience. It’s a win for the team. They will have their own arena — a full, 18,000-seat arena for the Islanders, designed by the Islanders.”
Cuomo also said he hopes NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will consider allowing the Islanders to play some of their home games at renovated Nassau Coliseum while the new arena is being built.
Bettman, who was in attendance, along with Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky, music legend Billy Joel, team captain John Tavares, veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck and countless politicians, said he will consider Cuomo’s request.
“Yesterday was the 100th anniversary to the day of the first NHL game being played,” Bettman said. “What better way to start the next 100 years than to start with this project?
“If you are an Islander fan or an Islander player, you have a lot to be excited about.”
The project is expected to created 12,300 construction jobs and 3,100 permanent jobs, said Howard Zemsky, CEO and commissioner of the Empire State Development Corp. The Long Island Rail Road is also set to expand service to the Belmont Park station stop, Zemsky added.
“As the governor said, the Islanders are back, and so is Long Island, baby,” Zemsky added.
Ledecky thanked the many people who had a hand in making the new arena a reality.
“The Island is coming back, and that’s why the Islanders are coming back,” Ledecky said. “Growing up in Queens, I am excited the Islanders will have a new address in the 11003, Elmont, New York.”
“For our fans, this day is for you,” he added. “You have been passionate supporters of the team on and off the ice. Thank you for being fans of the New York Islanders.”
Tavares, whose future with the team, many believe, is tied to the Belmont arena becoming a reality, expressed his satisfaction with the deal.
“The Islanders are called the Islanders for a reason,” Tavares said. “This is really where the team belongs. For us as players and our fan base to have somewhere, you know, it’s written in stone that we’re going to have a home built for the Islanders on Long Island, is pretty special.”
Not surprisingly, fans applauded the reports 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.
The Massapequa resident said he attends two or three games a season in Brooklyn, compared with 10 or 12 when the team played at the Coliseum. He expected to return to that number in the new arena.
“It’ll be good for (the team) to come back home,” he added. “(Barclays Center) is not ours. It feels like we’re renting this. But that place will be ours. It’ll be great.”
The Islanders submitted a development bid for a portion of the Belmont complex in September with several partners, including owners of the New York Mets and Madison Square Garden.
The state-run Empire State Development Corp. announced in July a request for proposals to develop 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.
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