The stakes at Belmont couldn’t be higher.
This time, it’s not a horse race, or even a Triple Crown. But the effort to develop Belmont Park and its surrounding land into a year-round sports and entertainment destination could transform the surrounding communities and the region. We have to get it right.
The long-awaited decision on who will develop the state land surrounding the racetrack is coming soon. Both proposals under consideration offer sports facilities, either an arena or stadium; community space, such as parks or a job training center; retail and restaurants. The joint proposal from the New York Islanders, Sterling Project Development, the real estate arm of the New York Mets’ Wilpon family, and the Oak View Group, an arena developer funded in part by Madison Square Garden, includes a 250-room hotel. The submission from New York City FC, a soccer team partially owned by the New York Yankees, and Related Companies, a New York City real estate developer, adds a 2-acre soccer center, with smaller fields and training facilities.
Add in the possibility of combining all downstate racing at Belmont, like the thoroughbred action at Aqueduct and perhaps even harness racing from Yonkers, and the opportunity grows. It’s a chance to add economic vitality to what’s now asphalt, and to boost that entire Queens-Nassau border area with a new Long Island Rail Road station that can become a public transit hub.
That is key. While the property borders on the Cross Island Parkway, the adjacent local roads can only handle so much traffic. The hope is fans and others will take the train to the game, race, shops, parks and restaurants.
But that won’t be simple. Belmont’s little-used LIRR station is on a short spur off the Main Line — one track in each direction. The station got an upgrade two years ago, after it couldn’t handle the prior year’s crowds, but it likely will need work, too. And it’s at a congested spot between Queens Village and Bellerose. Although there are four Main Line tracks, the spur only feeds into the southernmost, eastbound track. For trains to head west, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will have to find slots between existing Main Line train traffic and likely build new track infrastructure. Even then, managing the train traffic will be complicated.
A full-time station is on the state’s radar screen and the MTA is willing to try, but it likely will be expensive. Public improvements such as these can be paid for through future property tax revenue from the development. And it’s possible that Genting New York LLC, which operates Aqueduct’s Resorts World and wants to use the expanse of land there to expand its casino and amenities, could play a role in funding Belmont’s needs.
State officials should choose the development team for Belmont that is most committed to the region, presents the best year-round plan, and provides the largest economic boost to the region and the state.
Then there’s this: Belmont represents an opportunity for the Islanders to return to Long Island. Their departure was a hurt that still pains. It would be a boon to the region to again be home to a major league sports team. If all else was equal, that might tip the scales.
If the state can develop Belmont into an economic success story, bring the Islanders home, and create a year-round mass transit hub, that would be quite the hat trick.
— The editorial board