The New York Racing Association opened Saratoga Race Course a week earlier this year and, despite cries from naysayers, all is good.
For two consecutive years, NYRA upgrades cleverly developed the two spots furthest from the finish line into on-track destinations for fans.
Last year “Top of the Stretch,” debuted in what used to be section Z in the grandstand. This year, the 1863 Club near the clubhouse turn, opened for business.
Progress did not wait for people who were comfortable with the status quo at Saratoga and it will not wait for those happy with a 50-year-old facility named Belmont Park.
Last week, the final approval process began for the New York Islanders Arena at Belmont and it will conclude this week. Groundbreaking could begin as early as next week.
Again, critics have cried about the ruination of Belmont, but NYRA is planning a major renovation to Belmont that has nothing to do with the Islanders Arena.
NYRA officials stated that Belmont’s plans would remain secret until the revelation of the Islanders’ final plan. Those soon to be publicized plans are final. NYRA’s plan for Belmont will soon follow.
There were cries to save trees in Belmont’s paddock and backyard and a letter writing campaign, which asked NYRA to curtail the Isles’ plans. NYRA has its own plan for the paddock and backyard and its officials have said there will still be trees and a kid-friendly family-oriented backyard park.
Jon Ledecky, co-owner of the Islanders, said at a season ticket-holders event last week, “Actual ceremony after Labor Day. Work on the arena might begin in next two weeks. One more hurdle to pass on August 8. Building ‘A’ done deal”.
NYRA itself has plans for a major renovation of the paddock with a multi-story horseshoe shaped building circling the saddling area and walking ring. It will contain boxes and suites, as well as food and beverage facilities.
There is even talk of suites facing the paddock from the back of the current clubhouse.
While the Islanders may encroach on some part of the backyard, NYRA officials assure the backyard will still exist, though its configuration will most likely be different.
The New York Arena Partners will build its major projects, the arena and it’s food, beverage and entertainment space, the retail village and a hotel in mostly vacant parking lots used by racing fans once a year on Belmont Stakes day.
“Belmont will be Gulfstream Park on steroids,” said NYRA board member Michael Dubb in December 2017. One of the New York Arena Partners, Oak View CEO Tim Leiweke chimed in, “You guys are going to be really happy with this.”
NYRA’s plans include lights for night racing, which requires a change of current state laws. The association wants to build a fourth concentric track inside the three current courses to facilitate winter racing. That will probably be an all-weather surface that may also see use if races are forced off the turf.
Chris Kay, NYRA’s disgraced former president, confirmed to HRI in an interview on January 2, 2018, that NYRA’s two downstate tracks, Aqueduct and Belmont, would consolidate racing dates at both tracks solely to Belmont and racing, at some time in the future, will cease to exist at Aqueduct.
Belmont’s entire grandstand is slated for enclosure, making it suitable to year-round racing, save for the summer meeting at Saratoga, which in some future year probably will run from July 4th weekend through Labor day.
Digital renderings of the Isles arena show a brick exterior resembling that of Belmont, but inside it is a thoroughly modern facility. With contractors selected and a project manager hired, what was formerly known as the Red parking lot will be home to the Islanders, in time for the beginning of the 2021-2022 hockey season.
The south lot, south of Hempstead Turnpike, will house a 350,000 square foot retail village and not a mega-mall as fear-mongering protesters have described it. Mega malls are ten times that size.
The hotel will reside in the parking lot between the paddock and the barn area, providing accommodations for both hockey and horseracing fans, visiting hockey teams, and racing’s out-of-town owners and trainers.
A new Long Island Rail Road station on the main line at the north end of Belmont’s north parking lot will serve the racetrack and the arena with access from the east and west. The current terminal, seemingly soon to be obsolete, only has service from the west.
With arena construction slated to begin before racing returns to Belmont from Saratoga, and NYRA already having announced an early shift to Aqueduct, what other improvements could NYRA make between October and the 2020 Belmont Stakes?
The greatest profit center for NYRA regarding the Belmont Stakes would be high-priced boxes and suites to accommodate the big spenders on NYRA’s biggest day. Those facilities can be built in the window of time that exists before the 2020 Belmont, while many other projects would require more time to complete.
On the table for Belmont’s future could be a tunnel to the infield, which would create useful fan space in a vast unused portion of the facility.
Modern centralized food courts should replace the outdated concession stands currently spread throughout mostly unused portions of the grandstand.
Hockey fans will pay as much as $5,000 for a premium suite at the new arena, and all-event prices probably will top out at $500,000.
NYRA should target box holders and suite owners with comps to the clubhouse and similar boxes and suites at the track. If they can afford those prices, maybe they will like racing and maybe even buy a few horses. Even if luxury suites are used as customer perks, those are customers with disposable income.
What I would like to see at a renovated Belmont Park is innovative placement of the tote boards. Sink them into the ground with an upward angle so the fans can see them and see over them for an unobstructed view of the race.
What would you like to see at the new Belmont Park?
© HorseRaceInsider.com, All Rights Reserved, 2019