The UBS Arena at Belmont Park.

The UBS Arena at Belmont Park. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin / All Island

With UBS Arena hosting concerts and hockey games, and construction on a parking garage nearing completion, Belmont Park has become a hub of activity.

That’s when racing isn’t even the main event.

Now consider the addition of a modernized racetrack that can accommodate year-round racing, and a brand new grandstand and clubhouse. Soon, a new pedestrian tunnel will make the infield accessible, welcoming visitors to a previously underused part of the park. And there is the possibility of bringing the thoroughbred racing schedule at Aqueduct Raceway to Belmont, too.

That’s the vision emerging from the New York Racing Association and other advocates who hope the ongoing reimagining and redevelopment of Belmont Park, focused so far on the arena, will include the track, grandstand, and other racing-related property, too.

To do that, NYRA started constructing a retaining wall toward the north of the park, an effort necessary to build tunnels to carry vehicles and pedestrians from the north parking lot into the racetrack’s infield. That would allow construction vehicles to reach the racetrack, and the infield could open to fans as soon as 2024. All of that becomes even more important if Aqueduct becomes the site of a downstate casino, in which case the racing there might move. Belmont must be ready to benefit.

To turn planning and ideas into reality, NYRA has a seemingly straightforward ask: The association needs access to state-backed bonds so it can borrow to do the upgrades. That requires legislative and gubernatorial approval. The simplest way to do that is to include it in the state budget.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be much opposition. Neighboring villages and the state lawmakers who represent the area are on board. That support is key, especially since it hasn’t always been easy to get when it comes to Belmont. But Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders haven’t committed to approving the bonding, yet. They should.

Once the bonding is approved and the work begins, New York Arena Partners — a combination of the New York Islanders, Oak View Group and Sterling Project Development, and the entity handling the rest of the property's development — should carefully coordinate with NYRA, especially on construction and event schedules. That will become especially important as we head into the first spring with a busy arena and racetrack, and then into the future, as the arena group plans additional development.

As state officials and potential developers tried to rethink Belmont Park, the notion of a bustling Belmont at times felt unattainable. Now it’s here — a modern racetrack, a grand arena, and a sports and entertainment centerpiece that will benefit nearby communities and the entire region.

With the state’s signoff, an exciting finish is in sight.

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.

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