Speculation gave way to confirmation as the New York Islanders officially announced their intent to build a new arena adjacent to Belmont Park in a Wednesday morning press conference.
“For our fans, this day is for you,” Islanders’ owner Jon Ledecky said. “You have been passionate supporters of the team both on and off the ice. Today is a huge day for this franchise, and you deserve it more than anyone else.”
The REDC awarded the Islanders the development contract for an 18,000 seat arena complete with roughly 450,000 square feet of retail outlets, a restaurant, and a hotel after the club submitted their initial bid in September.
“To the great community of Elmont, this will be more than an arena. This site will be the home of economic development,” Ledecky said. “We will make every effort to contribute to the further success of Belmont Park and the Elmont community.”
While the Islanders never left Long Island from a technical sense when they relocated to Brooklyn in 2015, the sentiment that they were no longer playing on the island itself remained fresh in the minds of fans and casual observers.
“I grew up in Eastern Queens, and I spend a lot of time on Long Island,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “The Nassau Coliseum was where you went for a concert. That’s where the Nets were playing with Julius Erving, and the Islanders were the Long Island hockey team. They left to go to the Barclays Center, and while the Barclays Center is nice, it’s in Brooklyn, and when they left Long Island, it was sad.”
Cuomo, joined by Bettman and Islanders’ owners Ledecky and Scott Malkin, at the news conference, expressed the desire for the Islanders to play select games at the club’s original home at the Nassau Coliseum until the completion of the Belmont Arena, although Bettman previously stated that the Coliseum is no longer viable for NHL hockey.
“The commissioner approved this transaction (the move to Belmont Park),” Cuomo said. We are now appealing to the commissioner to see if we can get some of the home games played at the Nassau Coliseum until this new arena is built.”
The Islanders, currently in their third season as a tenant at the Barclays Center, expect to remain at the venue for at least the 2018-19 season, yet it remains unclear whether they will play elsewhere beyond that period during the construction of the new facility. Barclays Center and the Isles can reopen their lease agreement in January.
As the NHL celebrated the 100th anniversary of their first game on Tuesday, Bettman appears hopeful that the Islanders will succeed and thrive in their new address as the league enters its second century of existence looking to grow its stature and enhance its stability.
“Yesterday was the 100th anniversary to the day of the first NHL game being played,” Bettman said. And what better what to start then next hundred years than to proceed with this great development at Belmont? On behalf of the NHL, while we are proud with our history and legacy of hockey in New York, we think this is an exciting era for the next 100 years of hockey.”
When the arena and the surrounding developments officially open to the public in the next couple of years, the belief is that economic opportunities will grow with the community and the area could cultivate the land and infrastructure around Belmont Park that sat unused for decades.
“This development and arena as you heard represents the opportunity for tremendous economic growth,” Bettman said. “It is also an opportunity for a community-oriented development.”
“Belmont Park has a storied history,” Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky said. “For years it’s economic potential was untapped. The goal was to enhance Belmont Park into a year-round destination, maximize economic benefit, and create job opportunities.”