NY Sports Day

For many Islanders fans, the Nassau Coliseum will always be home.

Even when the team departed “The Barn” for Barclays Center in 2015, the hope was that one day the team would return to the Coliseum, which was set to undergo a massive renovation that included a sharp reduction in seats. That dream became a reality last December when the team began to split home games between Uniondale and Brooklyn until the new arena at Belmont Park is completed in 2021.

This season, there will be 28 regular season games played at the renovated Coliseum, although there are many who just think that the sacred ground at 1255 Hempstead Turnpike should just host all home games until Belmont is ready. The memories of the Coliseum will always be there, but just wait until you see the new palace that’s currently being built just a short drive from The Barn!

Work at the site began in August but ground was officially broken in September on the project in Elmont that will not only bring the Islanders back home to Long Island permanently but will also include a hotel and retail village on the grounds at Belmont Park. The Islanders’ quest for a new arena, more of a long and winding road that included so many hurdles, will finally come to an end when the puck drops in 2021.

“This whole project is just fantastic for the folks on (Long) Island and in the Belmont area,” said Islanders legend Bobby Nystrom at a recent tour of the site for Isles Alumni. “The building is going to be second to none. The fans have been going back and forth between Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum and it will be absolutely just great to have a home for them right here.”

From the platform that connects Belmont Park with the existing Long Island Railroad station, it’s easy to see just how much progress has been made in just a short amount of time. There’s a giant hole that has been dug with several surrounding mountains of dirt and the pouring of concrete has begun, an indication that it won’t be long before the Islanders’ new home will begin to rise.

“The progress that we’ve made here is pretty remarkable,” said Islanders Co-Owner Jon Ledecky. “You see footings going in already and they’re working around the clock.”

When it’s completed in October 2021, the Belmont Park Arena will open it’s doors for 17,113 hockey fans and will also have a capacity of 18,853 for concerts. The arena will feature 1,278 luxury seats, 3,084 premium seats, customizable suites, outdoor terraces, innovative food and drink services and plenty of on-site parking with the same number of spots that Islanders fans currently have access to at Nassau Coliseum.

Being able to drive to the games is something that Islanders fans have grown accustomed to over the years and many of those fans have not enjoyed the train rides to the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn for games at Barclays Center. However, the new arena at Belmont is going to have the best of both worlds for all Islanders fans whether they’re on Long Island or living in New York City and the surrounding area.

The fans that want to drive to the games will drive and those that want to take the train will have that option. There is currently an existing Long Island Railroad station that has a 35-minute direct train from Penn Station in New York City. Those trains will run on game days and there is a new full-time Long Island Railroad station which is being built north of the track that will have access from the east and west.

Also, Islanders ownership and their partners on the arena project are working on other components that will be a part of the site including a hotel and retail village. The arena is going up right next to Belmont Park but when the entire project is completed, it’s going to be a huge destination point for Long Islanders whether they’re going to an event at the arena, shopping or dining.

The $1 billion project is being privately financed by New York Arena Partners, a collaboration of the Islanders, The Sterling Group and The Oakview Group. The teamwork to bring this complex from it’s planning stages to the current construction to the eventual completion has been a team effort, symbolic of what it took the Islanders to become a Stanley Cup dynasty from 1980 to 1983. That was a great team that won four straight Stanley Cups and would go on to win 19 straight playoff series.

So, it’s appropriate that the Islanders’ fabulous new home is being built with the same principles that built, arguably, the best team in NHL history.

“All of the stories that came up from our days of playing with the Islanders came down to one thing,” said Denis Potvin, the Islanders’ Hall of Fame defenseman that captained those four championship teams. “It all came down to teamwork and everybody contributed and everybody was ready to contribute. I’m thinking about Jon Ledecky and the team he’s put together and what he has talked about. The massive amount of preparation, work and planning that went into just getting us here.”

For everyone associated with the Islanders from ownership to the coaches and players, to the staff, and to the fans, the new arena at Belmont Park is the light at the end of the tunnel of a long journey to get to this point. When the Islanders’ new home is completed, there will no longer be any questions as to the team’s future because they will be home for good on Long Island. There will be no more flip-flopping between home arenas.

The Belmont Park Arena will be home sweet home and it’s going to be state of the art in every way imaginable.

“It’s a great project for Long Island,” said Ledecky. “It brings the Islanders back to Long Island in a permanent home, a home that they can be proud of and a home that will represent the first third generation arena in the country. This arena will have every single positive bell and whistle that you can imagine and there’s amazing technology going on right now.”

One piece of the potential new technology at Belmont Park Arena is something that many Islanders fans, including my kids, are salivating about just thinking about it. For those fans who love to wear jerseys, there is a concept that the NBA recently unveiled that the Islanders are planning to have at their new home. Jerseys can be pricey, especially if you want to have jerseys of multiple players. And, of course, there’s always the risk of a player leaving a team which leaves you with an obsolete jersey.

But there is now technology that gives a jersey the capability of changing names and numbers before you walk into the building. It’s something that the Islanders are looking at.

“You can literally wear a uniform and one night you’re rooting for Mat Barzal and the next you want to root for Anders Lee,” said Ledecky. “As you walk into the arena you’re uniform, if you bought the right uniform, your uniform will change it’s number and change the name on the back. That is just super cool.”

The Islanders’ new home is going to have countless modern amenities for all fans that make their way through the doors. And while there’s going to be many premium seats and suites in the Belmont Park Arena, the team wants to ensure that all of their fans will be able to experience Islanders hockey at their new home.

“I’m proud to say on the one hand we have in terms of the prices of tickets now at Nassau for the next couple of years we deliberately are pricing at a very popular way,” said Ledecky. “That might put us down the tables of NHL teams in terms of attendance dollars, but it is increasing the number of folks who are showing up so that’s a deliberate strategy.”

The new Belmont Park Arena is going to have incredible sightlines, very similar to what Islanders fans have experienced at the Coliseum and unlike some of the seats at Barclays Center. From those fans who will watch from the last row at the top to the first row by the glass, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the ice while enjoying an incredible atmosphere for the games.

“The way the arena is being built, there should be no bad seats,” said Ledecky. “We’re taking the best of the modern arena and we’re taking the best of the old barn and trying to give the experience to a hockey fan of being in that old-time environment.”

My wife and I know first hand that the cost of going to a sporting event or a concert doesn’t end after the tickets are purchased. Our kids are going to want an Islanders souvenir like a puck or a hat so a trip to the team store is inevitable. And whether or not you plan on having lunch or dinner after the game, you have to factor in the expense of a trip to the concession stands during the course of the game.

That can add up but there has been a precedent set with the Atlanta Falcons new home Mercedes Benz Stadium where there are fan friendly food and beverage options. That’s something that the Islanders are exploring for the Belmont Park Arena.

“Moving forward, I think the things that have been done in other arenas are really clever,” said Ledecky. “We’re taking a look at that because we want the family of four to show up and not break the bank.”

The Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park is going to be incredible and it’s also not going to add too much time to the typical fan’s commute to the game. From points west, it’s a shorter drive and there will be LIRR service. From points east, you’ll be able to drive or take the train and the new arena is just a Ryan Pulock slap shot away from “The Barn”.

The Belmont Park Arena is just 7.4 miles west and a 22-minute drive on Hempstead Turnpike from Nassau Coliseum.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” said Islanders Hall of Fame forward Clark Gillies. “This is not bad. I’ve driven back and forth here between the Coliseum and this location and it takes you about an extra fifteen minutes. This is sort of neat to see it now. There’s been a lot of obstacles but to see that they’ve gotten this far along. I’m certainly looking forward to opening night in the new building and it’s going to be very special.”

With strong ownership led by Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, a Hall of Fame and Stanley Cup Champion executive in Lou Lamoriello, a Stanley Cup winning Head Coach in Barry Trotz, and a team full of exciting players including the likes of Anders Lee and Mat Barzal along with up and coming stars like Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson, the Islanders are building a team that is capable of winning the Stanley Cup and multiple Stanley Cups.

They’re also building a great new home to hang those championships banners.

Peter Schwartz