The re-imagining of Belmont Park is not only about hockey and horse racing.
The effort to develop land adjacent to the Belmont racetrack also is a lesson in how developers, state and local officials and neighboring communities can listen to one another, respond to concerns, and produce a project with enormous potential to revitalize the area, create jobs and boost economic activity. Local elected officials advocated for their constituents’ needs, and then, when they were met, added their support. The process has become an example of how to get development done smartly.
Of course, construction hasn’t started, and there’s much more to do, so it will be important for everyone to continue to listen and address questions or unforeseen circumstances.
At the heart of this week’s Belmont news is a plan to build the first new full-service train station on Long Island since 1933. For more than a year, the question of how to handle traffic, and the desire for more public transit, have been central to whether a new arena for the New York Islanders, a retail village, a hotel and more would be built at Belmont. A new Elmont station at the north end of Belmont Park on the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line, funded mostly by the developers, should be a boon for commuters, shoppers and arena ticket holders, especially thousands of Islanders fans. Fans from the east and the west will be able to take the train to the game. If they do, it will ease congestion on the Cross Island Parkway and Hempstead Turnpike.
This significant moment for the region is a sign of just how important public transit is to Long Island’s future. It will be up to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, state officials, and the developers, a group known as New York Arena Partners that includes the Islanders and Sterling Project Development, to follow through. They will have to make taking the train an attractive option for fans, concertgoers and visitors. The electric shuttle buses that will take patrons from the train to the arena must be reliable, and a positive experience, to motivate Long Islanders to get out of their cars. It will be important for state and team officials to offer train-game combination discounts or pregame perks, like hockey personnel making appearances on the shuttles.
Beyond funding the train station, the developers have made key changes to their plans to accommodate community concerns, like substantially reducing the size of the retail village, adding shrubbery to shield a nearby elementary school, and improving local parks and bus stops. And although it took some of them a while, the area’s three state senators, plus town and county officials, eventually came on board once the train station and other pieces were in place. Their continued support will be needed to finish the project.
Despite community concerns, and organized outside forces assisting some who oppose the project, proponents and the developers didn’t give up. After another public comment period, three state boards will have to approve the project. They should keep in mind the words of an Elmont mom who spoke Monday at a state meeting about Belmont:
“Be bold and build.”
— The editorial board