Mark Berner

Mark Berner first worked with horses on a small farm in upstate New York in 1973, where he mucked stalls and cared for racehorses with infirmities that were turned out there until ready to resume training.

He joined American Teletimer as a clocker in 1976 and operated their electronic timing equipment at many east coast racetracks until 1978, when he was permanently stationed at NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park & Saratoga Race Course.

Berner did freelance handicapping for the New York Daily News in 1982 & 1983 before joining Newsday in 1984 as a handicapper and later a sports reporter. Berner teamed up with Pricci to win the United Press International's 1985 UPI New York Newspaper Awards for Best Sports Story. In addition, Berner wrote and handicapped for several trade publications including, Daily Racing Form, Sports Eye, Racing Action, The Thoroughbred Times, Horse Player Magazine and New York Sportsnet.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Islanders Arena at Belmont Still On Track

By Mark Berner

It is unusual for New York’s Empire State Development Corporation to act before the end of a period of public comment, but the ESD had already extended the period for written comments on the Islanders arena at Belmont Park from February 11, to March 1.

Also unusual was that the ESD scheduled three public meetings after issuing the Environmental Impact Study instead of the customary one. Completing the trifecta of unusual events was the volume of written comments received by ESD.

Local NIMBY groups orchestrated letter-writing campaigns. Anyone who wishes to comment can still do so for another week by writing to

ESD’s timeline for the project essentially remains unchanged, contrary to a recent report, and the Final EIS is still due in the second quarter of this year. New York Arena Partners hoped it would be complete by the end of April, which would still allow over 60 days to achieve that goal, but the amended contract could double that timeframe, concluding June 30.

In 2017, ESD hired Allen King Rosen and Fleming, Inc. to provide environmental consulting services in connection with the EIS for the Belmont arena project until September 2019. Yesterday, it extended the contract with AKRF for another year into 2020.

Normal growth of a $1+ billion project such as changes to the site plan is what necessitated the extension. There are no deficiencies in the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) nor major hurdles to clear.

A local business group, Long Island Business News, yesterday created a lot of buzz with a heavily slanted “fake news” story and, along with and local activists, claimed victory. However, only minor amendments were made to the contract and there was no victory to undermine the project.

The ESD requires the vendor, NYAP, to kick in another $1.2 million to pay for the additional work that the ESD asked AKRF to do.

There was one interesting item pertaining the New York Racing Association stated in the Need for Amendment, Price and Funding: “Removal of night racing from the no-build.”

It sounds like contractual doublespeak, but it means that night racing is no longer a concern to the traffic study, therefore assisting NYRA in its quest to race at night.

Not only is night racing in NYRA’s plan, it is the key for the association to apply for a future Breeders’ Cup to be held at Belmont Park.

The amended contract with AKRF that was approved at Thursday’s meeting calls for five specific items.
1- Changes to the site plan and project area, including parking locations.
2- Additional traffic analysis to account for later game start time, removal of night racing from the no-build, and additional analysis locations and shared parking demands.
3- Natural resource assessment.
4- Preparation of fiscal impact analysis.
5- Additional construction analysis and additional alternative scenarios.

In addition to the items above, ESD awarded APFK with the extension to document the additional meetings and comments and to pay for the preparation of such. ESD also tasked AKRF with another year of environmental commitment monitoring and preparation of technical memoranda or support needed to produce the FEIS.

The ESD reported that no further environmental review is required in connection with the contract amendment.

The Nassau County Village Officials Association passed a nonbinding resolution that any approval of the Belmont project must be conditioned on the requirement of a full-time Long Island Rail Road terminal at Belmont. It further stated that the developer be required to bear and pay all costs associated with the upgrade, without the expenditure of public resources.

The resolution is not part of the Request for Proposal and ESD is not bound to it. MTA officials estimate full-time east-west service to the LIRR terminal at Belmont would cost $300 million. The great expense is because there are no tracks to the east on the Belmont spur. Service to the west will cost almost nothing, because the tracks exist.

AKRF has plenty of experience with the procedure as the firm that successfully completed the same tasks for all recent sports builds in and around New York City: Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Citifield (NY Mets) and the USTA National Tennis Center in Queens, and Barclays Center (NY Nets and Islanders) in Brooklyn.

Shovels could still hit the ground in May as originally stated by NYAP but the amended contract may delay it until June or July. NYAP is committed to go 24/7/365 to have the arena built by October 2021 for the start 2021-2022 NHL season.

© Mark Berner, 2019

Written by Mark Berner

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