Empire State Development, New York State’s business development agency, has moved quickly and is ever closer to a decision that will award the bid of the New York Islanders hockey team and its consortium to build a new arena at Belmont Park.

The Islanders hope to break ground next spring. “We have no comment as of now,” said Kimber Auerbach, Executive Director of Communications of the Islanders.

The announcement likely will come from someone with a higher pay grade. That, or the ESD award announcement will come at an opportune time for New York’s politically ambitious Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Islanders, along with NYCFC – The New York City Football Club, and developer Blumenfeld Development Group submitted bids on Empire State Development’s Request For Proposal by the September 28 deadline.

Ed Blumenthal recognized the warning signs and dropped out yesterday, citing extraordinary financial requirements that, according to a Newsday report, “appear to create a selection process that has been predetermined.”

A listening session scheduled by local politicians will take place on Sunday, DEC 10, at Elmont Memorial High School where the bidders will present their plans to the community.

This is unusual timing at this point in the process; a signal that the ESD is moving with speed. This meeting differs from the first listening session at the Elmont Library in July when the ESD listened to the community. This time it’s the other way around.

Following presentations by both bidders, they will answer handpicked questions previously submitted to the moderator. Written follow-up comments can be made onsite after the meeting, or by email to . The filing deadline is Monday, December 11.

The New Islanders Arena at Belmont Park
Allee, King, Rosen & Fleming (AKRF), an environmental consulting firm, has been contracted by the state to do work with the winner of the Belmont proposal. In doing so, the lengthy environmental studies needed before most projects of this nature are sidestepped.

AKRF previously consulted on the Barclays Center, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium projects.

When asked about the timeline for a decision, Amy Varghese, spokesperson for the ESD, said, “Belmont Park represents an opportunity for vibrant community and economic growth in the region and we're currently reviewing proposals for the site.”

The New York Racing Association also has big plans for Belmont Park but no one there is ready to let that horse out of the barn yet. When contacted, Patrick McKenna, NYRA’s Director of Communications & Public Affairs, declined to comment.

NYRA personnel have been muzzled for a good reason. Releasing NYRA’s plans before the ESD award would be foolish. And that’s because, as it looks now, the project is significantly different from the ESD’s Request For Proposal.

Layout of the New Belmont Complex

Most surprising is the fact that the entire proposed complex is on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike. The parking lot on the south side, expected to be the site of the arena, will remain a parking lot.

The new arena will hold 16,500 for hockey and 18,000 for stage shows, with two upper levels ringed with highly profitable executive suites. The proposal includes a hotel, a conference center, entertainment facilities, multilevel parking and retail shopping.

Additionally, there will be a new dual-purpose entrance from the adjacent Long Island Rail Road terminal to the Belmont grandstand and Islanders Arena.

If the Islanders project leaves more available land at Belmont, there still could be room for the NYCFC, making it a rare win, win, win. Some context:

Belmont Park first opened on May 4, 1905 and was demolished in 1963. The new Belmont Park reopened on May 20, 1968 and next year, its 50th anniversary, it is scheduled to get a major renovation.

Since no one at NYRA is currently willing to speak, HRI gets to propose some projects we think would make Belmont Park great again. Consider:

Will NYRA continue to conduct racing at Aqueduct while Belmont is under construction? NYRA’s construction at Belmont is currently scheduled to take two years. The Isles project is estimated to take up to five. Where will racing be conducted in the interim?

The 150th Belmont Stakes is scheduled to be run June 9, 2018 at Belmont Park. When the current Belmont Park was constructed, the Belmont was held at Aqueduct for five consecutive years, from 1963 through 67.

Will the 2018 Belmont be run in Elmont, then return to Queens the following year? Will the Belmont Park even be ready for the 2020 renewal? Will the reopening of Belmont and the permanent closing of Aqueduct both occur in 2020?

Other questions linger: Will the new Belmont Park have a dual-faced grandstand so that the back of current grandstand faces the paddock? Will NYRA enclose a reasonably sized section of Belmont’s grandstand that it will need for winter racing?

Would NYRA consider building a fourth concentric track for winter racing? In summer, would they build one or two tunnels to the infield? Originally thought to hold overflow on only one day per year, wouldn’t an infield get more use than an altered backyard?

Will NYRA install lights for night racing, requiring a change in state law to accommodate harness racing? Yonkers Raceway has made initial inquiries about Standardbred racing at Belmont. A partnership could work.

Finally, is the Belmont Park project part of NYRA’s plan to consolidate racing downstate? If Aqueduct were to close permanently in the future, would NYRA then open Saratoga on July 4, since a bad day at the Spa is better than good day at Belmont?

ELMONT, NY, December 5, 2017