Do this right.
There’s potential for grand development at Belmont Park — for a vibrant, economic center, with entertainment, restaurants, retail and, yes, racing. And there’s also the possibility that the site, like too many others on Long Island, will remain vacant for years, save for its 70-plus days a year of horse racing. If infighting worsens, if politics trumps, if the state continues to stall its request-for-proposals process, or if developers can’t get community support and approvals, all plans, ideas and economic potential could fail to come to fruition.
Development at Belmont is critically important to Nassau County’s troubled finances, to its economy and to nearby neighborhoods, including Elmont and Floral Park. Getting it right requires thoughtful master planning and input from the community and stakeholders. It also takes wisdom, courage and compromise, as there are multiple goals, even while trying to reach the winner’s circle.
Decisions must be made soon. Nassau County wants a spot for 1,000 video lottery terminals. Nassau Off-Track Betting is aiming for Belmont, saying the VLTs could bring in $20 million-plus a year. Meanwhile, developers who have applied to build there are getting antsy. And then there’s the New York Racing Association, which has its own hopes for Belmont.
But planning has been at a virtual standstill. The state issued a request for proposals in 2012 and responses came in 2013. The New York Cosmos want to build a 25,000-seat soccer stadium.
The other three bidding groups suggested a mix of restaurants, retail, parkland, community space and other amenities.
Nearly three years later, no winning bid has been chosen. In fact, the state was virtually silent on Belmont until officials recently asked developers to remove eight acres north of Hempstead Turnpike from their plans.
Nassau County hopes the VLTs will temporarily go there, until it can get a go-ahead from Albany to put the video terminals in the grandstand. But some local officials and community representatives oppose VLTs. They cite concerns over quality of life, competition from Aqueduct’s Resorts World casino, and doubts as to the economic benefit. But Belmont is the right place for VLTs, especially as part of an entertainment destination that also meets local needs. Communities with VLTs often receive host aid from revenue, which would provide an added boost. Potential plans to winterize the Belmont track and move year-round racing there would complement the efforts.
Some of the same officials and residents also oppose a Cosmos soccer stadium. On this, they’re right. Belmont needs something special — a mixed-use development that complements the raceway, supports the neighborhoods and provides plenty for visitors to do. There are similar projects, like Gulfstream Park in Florida, that Nassau should look to as potential models.
One needs only to see the asphalt surrounding an empty Nassau Coliseum to be reminded of big development failures in the county. It’s easy to think this one will fail, too. But it mustn’t. The state must weigh in, soon. Nassau OTB must be transparent in its VLT plans. Find room for compromise and creativity. Find a way to do it right.