Long Island has watched the potential for game-changing economic development slip away before, often when local officials have gotten in their own way. Don’t let it happen at Belmont Park.
The region is poised for a win at Belmont. State officials are at the starting gate with a formal request for proposals to allow interested parties to reveal their visions for the state-owned land which could include as much as 36 acres spanning Hempstead Turnpike.
One response is expected to include a new arena for the New York Islanders, which would bring the team, and the dollars its fans spend, back to Long Island. Adding a hotel, and other sports or entertainment options to the property along the Nassau-Queens border could extend the boost beyond the track. Plus, there’s the chance for an upgraded, year-round Long Island Rail Road station and a winterized racetrack.
But some local elected officials and business leaders seem to be trying to limit those possibilities, because they’re very worried about the future of another piece of land — the Nassau Hub.
Both the Hub and Belmont can go from being empty stretches of valuable land to successful regional engines. Nassau Coliseum doesn’t need a major league franchise to be a contender. Transformation of the concrete wasteland surrounding it can begin without sabotaging the unique opportunities at Belmont.
The reimagining of racing there could attract a new audience of fans and a boon to the industry. And a full-time Belmont track likely means Aqueduct’s track would close, opening up valuable land near Kennedy Airport.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Long Island Association chief executive Kevin Law, however, are battling Belmont by pushing the Islanders to return to the Coliseum. Despite their well-intentioned campaign, the reality seems to say otherwise. The Coliseum lacks the suites, seats, roomier concourses, restaurants, large locker rooms, public transit, and perks a major league hockey team needs. It could be a temporary stop if the team leaves Brooklyn before a new home is finished. But focusing on the Islanders alone is shortsighted.
Mangano wants a legacy achievement. But it will likely be the new county executive in January who will be responsible for rethinking and executing plans at the Hub. Mangano’s chosen developer, Bruce Ratner is changing his plans for the area around the Coliseum, offering housing in addition to retail. Meanwhile, the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research’s cancellation of its $300 million bioelectronic center was a setback. Memorial Sloan Kettering’s outpatient cancer center is there but the grand plans for a biotechnology park remain unrealized.
Any revised plans must fit the state’s economic development goals, so that Albany’s promised $85 million for two parking garages and $50 million for a biotech center can be used at the Hub.
Reinventing the Hub and Belmont Park isn’t a zero-sum game. Framing it that way might result in a losing ticket at both places. A wiser approach is for state and local officials to leave all doors open, perhaps even finding paths that end with successful development of both sites.
Both Belmont Park and the Nassau Hub can be winners.
— The editorial board