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Let Belmont be a beginning

With the opening of the UBS Arena in

With the opening of the UBS Arena in Belmont Park on Saturday, the Islanders and their fans will finally have a permanent home. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

What a momentous week for Long Island.

The Island is seeing not one, but two ribbon-cuttings on projects of regional significance. Come Saturday, Long Islanders can access a brand new Long Island Rail Road train station for the first time in nearly 50 years. And perhaps most stunningly, after decades of wondering and wandering, the New York Islanders and their fans finally have a permanent place to call home, as UBS Arena at Belmont Park opens.

Just two years ago, an enormous pile of dirt sat on the land next to the grandstand, trains would rumble right past Elmont, and the Islanders were playing in Brooklyn.

What a difference two years make. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York Arena Partners stuck with their schedules and fulfilled their promises.

The redevelopment of Belmont Park and the addition of new public transit will change the Island's landscape. It will attract newcomers, who hopefully will frequent the area's restaurants and shops before and after events. It will bring year-round economic activity to a community that usually sees a single weekend boost. All of that could, as Assemb. Michaelle Solages noted this week, lead to property value gains and a ripple effect throughout nearby neighborhoods.

There's still a lot to do before that dream is fully realized. The Elmont station only features eastbound traffic right now, with westbound service coming next summer and a full-time schedule arriving once the Third Track project is finished. The MTA must deliver. Belmont Park's developers have a hotel and retail village on their to-do list, along with promised community benefits. Then there's the expected changes to the grandstand and racetrack itself, which remain priorities.

More immediately, it'll be important for team and arena executives, along with MTA officials, to encourage fans and concertgoers to utilize the new train service, perhaps by offering incentives to those who ride the rails. Even then, arena personnel also must be prepared to handle the traffic, parking and other challenges sure to arise. This weekend will be an important test, with three events in three days starting Friday night. Through it all, officials must be attentive to community concerns and ready to fix what doesn't work.

But for now, it's a moment to celebrate, with music from upcoming concerts, laughs during family events, and cheers for Islanders wins.

Too often, Long Island is where game-changing projects go to die. The success at Belmont Park shows what can happen when private companies pair with public entities, when elected officials lend their support, and when everyone finds a way to turn big ideas into reality. If those involved at the Nassau Hub take a page from the Belmont story, perhaps there's a ribbon-cutting in the Uniondale property's future, too.

For now, it's a new day for Long Island. Here's hoping it's the first of many.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.