Elmont business owners are of two minds about how the opening of UBS Arena, the new home of the New York Islanders, will impact them.
Some have already seen big benefits during construction of the $1.1 billion project, others are dubious that spectators will venture away from the parking lot to spend money in the community. Still, most are hopeful that jobs will come to their neighbors and prosperity will trickle down.
Construction was good for deli
David Matos, owner of Talk of the Town deli along Hempstead Turnpike, said, "The last couple of years have been wonderful with all the construction workers, and UBS has been really, really good with us as far as that goes."
During the worst of the pandemic, regular business from construction workers and others developing the site kept the deli "above water," said Matos, whose family business is a 10 minute walk from the arena. "We’d really be in shambles if it wasn’t for them."
Construction on the new venue, set to open Saturday when the Islanders take on the Calgary Flames, began in 2019.
The arena and surrounding redevelopment is being done by developer New York Arena Partners and is expected to generate approximately $25 billion in economic activity over the life of its 49-year lease.
The project site's development is also expected to bring 3,000 permanent jobs to the area, of which 30% are earmarked to be filled by locals, arena management said.
Business owners like Matos said the project is good for the community. Matos said he knows many locals who landed jobs there over the last few years. But as it nears opening, he said he’s not sure how much more business the arena will bring to his deli.
"Generally, people who are going to go to those events are just going to stay onsite," he said. "We may catch the people parked outside or the people that work there."
Still, he is optimistic.
"It can only be an improvement," he said.
'It’s going to be gentrified, 100%'
Other owners, like Benito Vazquez, see the arena’s arrival as a sign of big changes to come, not all of which are positive.
"In five years, this community is going to be changed," said Vazquez, who owns El Cafe De Hoya Mexican Grill. "Big companies come, they buy the buildings and businesses, and everything changes."
Many workers at the neighboring Belmont Park race track live in the community because of the relatively cheap housing, and he worries that rising costs will force them to move.
"It’s going to be gentrified, 100%," he said. "Maybe in five years this restaurant disappears."
Expecting local jobs — and traffic
Titus Runcie, a franchise owner of Golden Krust Caribbean Restaurant one mile from the arena, said he sees its presence as a benefit for the area, though not necessarily for his business.
Runcie, who also owns two other restaurants with his wife, said he’s doubtful the new arena, which will host up to 18,500 spectators, will bring in customers.
He likened a hockey game or concert to the running of the Belmont Stakes: "They come, they go to the stadium, they park, they eat, they drink, they watch the Belmont Stakes, and they go home," he said. "So, it will create a lot of traffic for us. But as far as business, I don’t think it will impact much."
Despite that, Runcie said it will be good for the area, will add tax revenue, and will likely lead to increased property values.
"We welcome it," he said. "The stadium brings revenue to the neighborhood, and people from the neighborhood get hired, so we all appreciate that. It’s good for the neighborhood."
Hoping for ripple effect
Yvonne Levy, owner of Toma-Tis Restaurant & Grill, a vegan Jamaican-Caribbean eatery, said she’s hopeful about the ripple effects of the arena.
"I'm not sure if it will have a great impact on us, because we're on the outskirts," said Levy, whose Meacham Avenue restaurant is a 10-minute drive from the arena.
While Levy hopes the venue brings a broader benefit to the area and its businesses, she would like to find a way to benefit directly.
Last year, Levy said, she was in talks about the possibility of opening an express version of her restaurant inside the arena, but nothing came of it.
Ultimately, she said, whether the arena helps her business depends on how much local businesses are considered by the venue’s owners, and whether arena management would be willing to highlight local businesses in its informational and promotional material.