After decades of dashed hopes and dark moments for New York Islanders fans awaiting a new home, the steel, brick and concrete that are melding on the border of Long Island and Queens look to be a bright spot.
Even before Friday’s "topping off" ceremony — where the last steel beam was raised — Oak View Group chief executive Tim Leiweke, a partner in Belmont Park’s redevelopment, has been pushing to make the project a symbol and a sign of Long Island’s comeback.
Leiweke has given tours of the UBS Arena to sponsors, media, and more. On Thursday, he spoke to the Long Island Association’s economic development and infrastructure committee, saying he is "very, very bullish on Long Island."
Leiweke is hoping to have the arena ready to go by November 2021, he said, noting that it remains on schedule despite the work stoppage during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. And the new Long Island Rail Road station at the site is on schedule, too, he added.
"Despite the virus and despite the economy, we plowed straight ahead and we never blinked," Leiweke said. "We have zero doubts about this project and absolute confidence in Long Island and the support we’ll get with this project."
The redevelopment at Belmont Park is a joint venture between Oak View, the New York Islanders, and Sterling Project Development, the real estate group controlled by the Wilpon family.
And among those partners, the $1 billion arena is "fully funded," Leiweke told the LIA, noting that Oak View has put in $250 million in equity into the project, and the debt it needed to secure is "locked down."
On its own tour of the arena Thursday afternoon, The Point got a look at the construction. Taking shape inside the arena’s frame are concourses that are double the size of Nassau Coliseum’s, 25,000 square feet of space just for the Islanders’ locker rooms, 56 suites and eight additional club spaces. And there’s a lot to excite Islanders fans, from a standing-room "tailgate" club at the far end of the arena’s upper bowl that will have team memorabilia to club spaces that run alongside the team’s exit and entrance ramps so fans can cheer their favorite players from up close.
"The billion [dollar cost] was not because of labor costs, or land costs," Leiweke told The Point. "It’s because we plowed money into technology, finishes, square footage and more."
Will the investment pay off? Leiweke said that so far, more than half of the arena’s suites and club seats have been sold. And the Islanders, he said, are close to securing 10,000 season ticket holders for the Belmont arena.
Still, Leiweke noted that the pandemic has affected the planning and cost of the project, and his own thinking.
"lt keeps me up every night," Leiweke told the LIA, adding that he’s addressing concerns like air flow in new ways.
The pandemic may affect the timing of the rest of the Belmont plans, including the retail portion and the hotel construction, which remains uncertain. But, Leiweke said, Islanders co-owner Scott Malkin remains committed to getting the project completed.
Meanwhile, there’s already an economic impact on the Island. Right now, about 600 workers are on site each day, and at its height, that number will grow to 1,500, Leiweke said. And he’s hoping the Belmont effort will be a catalyst for more economic development on the Island, too.
"If you’ve got enough guts, this is when you want to build — right now," Leiweke said. "We’re spending the most money anyone’s spending on Long Island. It’s a commitment for Long Island that’s going to wake everyone up."