The Islanders’ planned arena at Belmont Park is expected to take more than three years to complete, which would put the opening near the start of the 2021-22 hockey season.
A Newsday analysis of the state approval and construction process, as well as interviews with people involved in the project, indicate that at least 38 months would be needed before the 18,000-seat arena could be ready.
The Islanders remain hopeful the arena can open sooner than 2021 because the team’s partners in the development — which include Oak View Group, an arena development company partly funded by Madison Square Garden, and Sterling Project Development, a real estate firm run by the Mets’ Wilpon family — are experienced in building stadiums and arenas and because of the amount of legwork the group completed on the architectural renderings while awaiting the state’s decision on a winning bid, according to sources.
Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky has steered clear of saying when the new arena will be ready. When asked to comment for this story, Ledecky said only that the team hopes to have it done “as soon as possible.”
Here’s a road map for the project, compiled through Newsday interviews with people involved in it and from reviewing public minutes of board meetings of Empire State Development, the state’s primary business development agency.
Phase 1: Winning the Bid
Status: Complete, pending final approval
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced last month that the development team led by the Islanders had won the state’s request for proposals to transform the state-owned land around Belmont Park in Elmont. The bid includes an 18,000-seat arena, 435,000 square feet of retail stores, restaurants and a movie theater; a hotel with 200 to 250 rooms, nearly 6 acres of outdoor recreation space and a 10,000-square-foot community building designed to host events, classes and wellness activities for those who live nearby.
New York Arena Partners, the name of the Islanders’ joint venture in the development, will finance the entire $1 billion project. The group will sign a 49-year lease with the state and pay a total of $40 million in rent.
The project was conditionally approved by Empire State Development last month. Formal approval is subject to the completion of an environmental review.
“You’re talking about approximately 40 acres of underutilized parking lots on the border of Long Island and Queens,” ESD president Howard Zemsky said at last month’s board meeting. “This has been discussed for a long time, how to utilize this underutilized asset that gets used for the Belmont Stakes once a year. You’re talking about a billion-dollar investment, a long-term lease and no public money that I can tell of zero consequence.”
Phase 2: Environmental review and approval
Status: Begins in March, expected to take 12 to 16 months
The environmental review process begins with a hearing that will take place in March, Holly Leicht, ESD executive vice president of real estate development and planning, told the ESD board. She said the entire review is estimated to last 12 to 16 months.
The review will be done by Manhattan-based environmental consulting firm AKRF, which ESD said it selected because the firm did the reviews for Barclays Center, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium. AKRF will be paid up to $2 million for its work by the Islanders’ group, according to ESD.
The environmental review will include a look at the impact the arena project will have on traffic and public transportation, Leicht said.
She said ESD has begun talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about increasing service at Belmont’s Long Island Rail Road station, which is only part time. The Islanders’ proposal calls for a full-time station. Ledecky said on WFAN radio Wednesday that Cuomo also will be involved with the LIRR aspect.
“There’s money in the budget according to the governor and his people,” Ledecky said. “We have to make sure that money gets spent and that station becomes a vital part of the community, not just when there is horse racing and not just when there is a concert or a game. All the time, 365 [days a year], 24 hours a day.”
Cuomo’s office, in response to a request for comment, referred back to a statement last month that said the LIRR “will develop a plan to modify service to accommodate New Yorkers for sporting and special events.” The LIRR reiterated in a statement this week that it is “committed to expanding service” at Belmont but did not offer specifics.
Meanwhile, as the environmental review is underway, ESD said its executives and representatives from the Islanders group will engage with the communities surrounding Belmont about the project through a community advisory board.
Leicht told the board the environmental review probably will finish in the spring of 2019, at which point ESD’s board of directors will vote to approve the Islanders’ group’s lease for the property. Once that happens, construction can begin.
Phase 3: Construction
Status: Requires environmental review and forecast to take 26-30 months
The arena is expected to take 26 to 30 months to be built, according to a source directly involved in the process, which is a standard time frame for an arena. The project’s hotel and retail stores could take longer, but the arena will be the priority because it is the “driver” of the project, the source said.
The Islanders’ new arena design was done by architect Jason Carmello of Populous, whose resume includes recently built hockey arenas in Las Vegas, Quebec City and Pittsburgh.
The construction will be done by Sterling Project Development, the Wilpons’ real estate development agency that built Citi Field and was involved with the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field ballpark, among other sports stadiums and developments.
Richard Browne, a partner in Sterling Project Development, described the company at a public hearing in Elmont last month as “thoughtful developers. We don’t build and then move on. We build where we live and we keep on it and we manage our developments very much like you would develop your own home.”
Construction at Citi Field, for example, began in November 2006 and the stadium opened 28 months later for the start of the Mets’ 2009 season. Browne said construction on Citi Field was completed on time and came in $40 million under budget.
Construction on the new Yankee Stadium began in August 2006 and it opened in April 2009 — a span of 32 months.
It’s important to note, though, that no two stadium timelines are alike. Barclays Center in Brooklyn was approved in March 2005 but the start of construction was delayed more than five years because of various lawsuits. It opened 30 months later.
And the recent $165 million renovation of Nassau Coliseum performed by Nassau Events Center — a subsidiary of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which also operates Barclays Center — took 18 months to complete.
Barring unforeseen delays and factoring in the best-case scenarios, completion of the arena would look like this:
- The environmental review process begins in March and is completed in 12 months.
- Construction begins in March 2019. It takes 26 months to complete the arena, taking the timeline of completion to May 2021. The hockey season begins in October.