The Horse Race Insider is a privately owned magazine. All copyrights reserved. “Bet with your head, not over it.”

The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Rendering of the Arena@Belmont Park
courtesy of the New York Islanders

ELMONT, NY – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo – along with local leaders, the New York Islanders hockey team and representatives of National Hockey League, staged a ceremonial groundbreaking event yesterday at Belmont Park.

This makes the digging that’s been going on there for several weeks official. In fact, cement already had been poured for some of the pylons that anchor and support the foundation.

But none of that stopped all the people with shinny shovels on a man-made stage of sand, with a couple of well-placed backhoes borrowed from a giant pit behind them to serve as a backdrop. Ceremony time.

Legislators, assorted dignitaries and Islanders players man their ceremonial shovels
photo: Mark Berner

“The Islanders belong on Long Island and today we start building the state-of-the-art home this team and their fans deserve, while generating thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity for the region’s economy,” pronounced Governor Cuomo.

The stage was filled with representatives of all the entities involved in the project, including three boys who grew up in Queens — Cuomo, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Islanders owner Jon Ledecky – spoke to a crowd of several hundred guests.

“This today will go down as one of the great days in the history of the New York Islanders,” Commissioner Bettman said. “This is the day that assures everybody who has anything to do with the Islanders, who cares anything about the Islanders. [Passionate Islanders fans can see] that this is the future of this franchise, right here on Long Island.”

Workers look on at the groundbreaking ceremony
photo: Mark Berner

Ledecky was the main cheerleader, leading the crowd with the “Yes, Yes, Yes” chant that follows every Isles goal. “We celebrate this historic day with our loyal fans and thank Governor Cuomo, who has championed the Belmont Park Arena project from the start.”

The 19,000-seat arena–17,113 for hockey–is scheduled to open for the 2021-22 NHL season. A hotel, a retail-shopping village, a food, beverage and entertainment concourse and a full-time Long Island Rail Road station will all be completed at a later date.

The view from a live Islanders web cam

[Ed note: Mark has been posting weekly updates with pictures taken from the roof of Belmont’s grandstand and suggested that a web cam might be better. Someone listened and the Islanders have done just that. All can watch from the link below:].

Additionally, The New York Racing Association is planning to dovetail a multi-year major renovation of Belmont Park while the work is being done by New York Arena Partners, a group consisting of the Islanders, Sterling Project Development of New York Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, and Oak View Group, a leader in the field of sports arenas and entertainment.

SPD is a development, advisory and management company with international experience across all project types: Citi Field in New York, Target Field in Minnesota, and Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit are among the firm’s most familiar sports structures.

OVG, whose motto is “We are here to be a positive disruption to business as usual in the sports and live entertainment industry,” is a joint venture of sports executive Tim Leiweke and media mogul Irving Azoff, manager of numerous top musical performers.

AECOM Hunt, on site at Belmont, is the number one builder of stadiums and arenas worldwide. The company has built nine retractable roof stadiums, 13 NHL arenas, 14 NBA arenas, 14 NFL stadiums, 18 MLB stadiums and 33 collegiate stadiums and arenas, and Constructed the first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium – Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga.

Commemorative groundbreaking hockey puck
photo: Mark Berner

On Feb 7, 2017, I reported for HRI that the Islanders were going to build an ice hockey arena at Belmont Park. Leiweke told me “You guys are going to be really happy with this,” on December 20, 2017, when the official announcement was made at Belmont Park that New York State’s Empire Development Corp. awarded the Request for Proposal to NYAP.  HRI was first to report this on Dec, 5, 2017. This September, the physical process finally began.

The Islanders and their fans never quite settled into their new Brooklyn home, Barclays Center. The team began playing games there for the 2015-16 season and ranked 28th in attendance in the 30-team league.

Two years prior to that, however, NYRA board member Michael Dubb floated an idea to late Islanders’ owner Charles Wang about an Islanders Arena at Belmont Park

Wang, the majority owner at that time, was fed up after the failed Lighthouse project and public funding referendum to rebuild their former home, the Nassau Coliseum. Wang also lacked the billion dollars it would cost to build a new arena.

The Islanders and their present landlord, Barclays Center, had opt-out clauses in the 25-year contract and eventually both agreed opting out was in both their interests.

When the Islanders Arena at Belmont Park opens for the 2021-2022 NHL season, the Isles will have a state of the art facility to call their own for the first time in its 49-year history.

Facebook Share
Twitter Share
LinkedIn Share

⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

21 Responses

  1. You know “King Andrew” had to get his photo-op with the shovels. There just wasn’t a good time to do it before now.

    The bigger question is: Will it be business as usual at Belmont in 2020 or will we see some of what I have said in prior posts (mainly a five-week Belmont early summer season with other than a nine-week Saratoga season Aqueduct running the rest of the time the next two years)?

  2. Walt-
    All good questions. Now that the arena is on its way, it’s a good time to contact NYRA for an update.

  3. I took a look at that live cam at Belmont yesterday and I saw 3 or 4 cement trucks in the video and I thought of you saying they have to pour the cement before it gets cold. Cuomo did a interview yesterday on Long Island news radio, I don’t know if you got a chance to hear it Mark, it’s up on their site, a lot of Belmont talk.

  4. Tag-
    Yes, they poured cement into forms for pylons with a large rig. The web cam is pretty cool!
    No, I didn’t hear the Gov’s interview. Will look for it. Thanks for the tip.

  5. The Belmont spring meet has always been the heart of the racing year in my opinion, even after some of their signature stakes races were poached by Saratoga. Maybe that’s just a provincial take from a born and raised lifelong “downstater”, but I would be bitterly disappointed if that meet is drastically tampered with. Hopefully it isn’t necessary. I’d much rather they try the 3 or a 3:30pm first post than just not running there. If they must shift then Aqueduct should get the races instead of Saratoga getting even more off of us.

  6. Doc-
    NYRA has for years been moving toward a July 4 opening at Saratoga. I don’t think any earlier is realistic, tough some predict Memorial Day will mark future openings at the Spa.
    I’m with you. Many of those stakes belong at Belmont. However a bad day at Saratoga is better than a good day at Belmont for the bottom line. Dollars rule!

  7. Interesting. So in a theoretical Memorial Day weekend opening of Saratoga, how would they handle the Belmont Stakes? That would just become a one off Super Saturday? This would be hard to do without them losing a late spring Friday and Sunday. So they’d have to run the Belmont Super Festival Weekend or whatever the hell the 3 day thing is called these days. And that would be assuming they race on a dark Monday at the Spa instead in exchange for losing the Thursday where they’d have to move and set up operations at Belmont for the 3 day festival. Of course, they ripped so many great races away from us as it is, might as well take the Belmont Stakes and Met Mile too!

  8. How long before talk starts of Horseracing coming to an end at Belmont Park?

    First a Hockey Arena, how long before a Football Stadium for the NY Jets on the land where the track sits?

    1. The New York Jets now appearing in Elmont, NY. Get ’em out of Jersey and bring ’em home to Belmont. If Shea was home to BOTH Mets and Jets why isn’t Citi Field also? Lady Gaga plays there, why not the Jets? You may have nailed it with Beautiful Belmont morphing into future Big Green site, next door to NY Islanders arena. NY Rangers had a shot at Mike Bossy and didn’t take him in draft. They traded away Rick Middleton for Ken Hodge so Espo would have his linemate from glory days in Beantown. Way to go, guys. Both became superstars for other teams. Bossy was the best (and I’m a Rangers fan).

      1. I remember going to an Islander playoff game against Pittsburg. A mini, 3 out of 5 series. Series was tied at two games all and with 3 minutes remaining in the third period the Penns had a two goal lead. Isles tied it late and then won in OT. No problem. 4 cups in 4 years, pretty amazing. Billy Smith in net, Ft. Smith. I was stunned as a Ranger fan and when the crowd was emptying out I looked at the person next to me and said I felt terribly for the Penguin goalie. He put his hands to his eyes as if to pretend he was crying and said, “Me, too.” Next up for the Islanders, The New York Rangers. Of course I would have rather faced Pittsburgh!!! Bryan Trottier a superstar.

  9. Mark: Now with two separate lawsuits filed, what is the status of the Belmont project. I have not read that, in either case, that the parties have requested a TRO to stay the construction project. In the absence of a TRO, what would be the point of these two lawsuits? There is not a Court in the world that would issue an injunction forcing the State ( ESD) and/or the NYAP to remove an existing stadium.
    Also, do you have any timeframe for when NYRA will finally announce what it intends to accomplish at Belmont?

    With regard to Saratoga, the only reasonable future schedule would be from July 4-Labor day. Anything longer than two months would be a severe hardship for all of the people who live downstate.

  10. Hey Mark looks like things are going well with the construction, it also seems that the live cam is a couple of hours behind real time, I check the cam and it’s dark by my house but it’s still sunny and they’re still working at Belmont and I’m only 15 minutes from there (without traffic).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *