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Cosmos soccer team, other builders tire of waiting for decision on Belmont property

This artist's rendering provided by the Spector Group

This artist's rendering provided by the Spector Group on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, shows a proposed New York Cosmos soccer stadium at Belmont Park in Elmont. Credit: AP

More than two years after the New York Cosmos proposed a 25,000-seat soccer stadium, hotel and retail complex at Belmont Park, inaction by state officials has prompted the team to consider alternative locations for the $400 million privately funded project.

In February 2013, the Cosmos and three developers, who proposed retail and recreation complexes, made presentations to Empire State Development Corp., the state's primary business-aid agency, to develop the 36-acre, state-owned Elmont property.

Bidders say that since then they've received little information from the agency and some have grown frustrated with the lack of a decision.

Erik Stover, chief operating officer of the Cosmos, said the delays have led the team to consider other sites in Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, Brooklyn, Westchester and New Jersey. He declined to identify them.

Stover said the lack of a permanent home for the team, which plays its home games at Hofstra University's James M. Shuart Stadium, makes it difficult to sell season tickets. The team drew an average of 6,859 fans per game in 2013 and about 5,300 last year.

"Belmont is still our first, second and third option," Stover said. "But we would not be doing our job unless we were looking at other sites. It would be foolish to limit our scope."

Empire State Development Corp. officials said in August 2013 that a decision was expected within weeks. In March 2014 an agency spokesman said a decision was coming "soon."

Agency spokesman Jason Conwall said last week Empire State Development "is in the process of finalizing its decision." He declined to elaborate.

This month, two members of Congress wrote to Howard Zemsky, whom Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo nominated in January as president of the development agency, urging him to select the Cosmos' bid.


Project 'in limbo'

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) wrote that Belmont has been "in limbo for more than two years and it's time to decide on a plan for the area." Rice said the Cosmos' project would bring more than 2,000 jobs to Nassau County and "revitalize an area in need of economic stimulation."

Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said the team's proposal "creates a venue for families to make memories, to learn about teamwork and to encourage healthy participation in sports."

State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who also backs the Cosmos' plan, said delays have "handcuffed the applicants and have done a great disservice" to the community.

"If the Cosmos pick up shop and go someplace else, it begs the question of what that means for us as a region," Martins said. "There needs to be some accountability here."

The Cosmos want to build a soccer stadium, a 175-room hotel, restaurants, a community center, retail stores and a public park. Team officials said the project would generate more than $200 million in annual revenue.

The Cosmos, one of the most popular American teams in the 1970s, folded in 1985, but the team was reborn in 2012 to play in the new North American Soccer League.

The league is considered a step below the more established Major League Soccer. Local MLS teams include the New York Red Bulls, which play in Harrison, New Jersey, and the newly established New York City FC team, which this month began playing home games at Yankee Stadium.


Some opposition

The stadium would be located on a 28-acre parcel on the southeast corner of Hempstead Turnpike and the Cross Island Parkway. The hotel, park and retail complex would be on the northern section of the property near Belmont's racetrack.

Opposition to the project has been led by Nassau Legis. Carrié Solages and his sister, Assemb. Michaelle C. Solages, both Democrats from Elmont.

They contend the neighborhood needs a supermarket, retail stores and community center, not a soccer stadium.

"There are other, better opportunities for that site than a mega-stadium," Carrié Solages said. "The community does not want this."


Plan for big-box store

Among the other bidders is Syosset-based Blumenfeld Development Group, which wants to put a big-box store on the site, surrounded by restaurants, a health club, community center and athletic fields.

Company president Ed Blumenfeld said he's "disappointed" with the lack of information from the state and may no longer bid on government requests for proposals.

"We've spent tens of thousands of dollars, plus plenty of time, answering the RFP and never got a response," Blumenfeld said. "Time, effort and money plus no response does not make for good business."

The Engel Burman Group of Garden City and Basser-Kaufman of Woodmere pitched a 28-acre retail and recreation center, including a supermarket, stores, restaurants, a community center and a soccer field. Related Cos., a Manhattan-based firm, proposed shops, restaurants, a supermarket and 21/2 acres of community and recreation space.

Belmont Park also has been discussed as a potential destination for a video gaming parlor.

In January, the Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. abandoned its pursuit of a casino-style gaming parlor at the vacant Fortunoff building in Westbury after vocal community opposition. A source familiar with the project said Belmont is the most likely location for the VLT parlor.

Stover said there are no restrictions prohibiting the Cosmos from operating next to a gambling parlor.

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