After decades of too many development failures across Long Island, there was a reason to celebrate this week. There is now a comprehensive plan for the underused land at Belmont Park, one that includes a gift for supporters of the New York Islanders.
The announcement that private developers will invest $1 billion at Belmont Park deserves the “Yes!” cheers that rang out from the horse-racing facility on Wednesday. Big thinking means that a major-league sports franchise is once again part of the Island’s identity, and there is the promise of transforming the Queens-Nassau border into a hub of economic activity. Belmont’s renaissance can boost surrounding neighborhoods as well as the region.
Now the work starts in Elmont, Floral Park and other communities around the racetrack. State officials have pledged to establish a community advisory committee. That has to happen quickly both in an official way and an informal one. The coalition that won the bid — the Islanders, Sterling Project Development and the Oak View Group — should have a high profile in the area to help determine the best uses for space in the project allocated to the community, as well as to address concerns like traffic and noise.
State officials and developers have to listen to as many voices as possible, not just the loudest ones, so the communities can be true partners in the process.
Other questions remain, including how to make the necessary road and rail improvements, how much they’ll cost and who will pay. The explanation of the state’s revenue stream also has to be more clear. The developers have a 49-year lease and will pay the state $40 million. But the financial details are unknown, as is whether the developers will help with infrastructure costs, including Long Island Rail Road upgrades at the park. Taxpayers deserve to know what they’ll get from this deal to make sure that beyond the economic impact, the state gets significant revenue for such valuable land. At the same time, the New York Racing Association should move forward with the effort to move Aqueduct’s racing to Belmont, so the premier track can have year-round racing. Those decisions have to go neck and neck with the rest of the development.
Now that the Islanders are planning to drop the puck at Belmont, all eyes turn to the Nassau Hub, the county-owned wasteland of 77 acres around the Nassau Coliseum, the team’s original home. Belmont’s success could have been the Hub’s, but intransigence, and plenty of town and county roadblocks, stood in the way. As a result, Belmont will be the sports and entertainment destination long hoped for in Uniondale.
Incoming Nassau County Executive Laura Curran should begin anew with a realistic master plan for the Hub so that it, too, can become an important part of the Island’s future. The pieces of the Belmont puzzle came together only because government officials, private developers and partners like NYRA pushed for it to happen. Similar success might be more difficult at the Hub, but it is possible. Let’s not allow decades more to pass without a reason to celebrate there, too.