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Work at Islanders' Belmont arena stops amid state's ban on non-essential construction

Aerial view of Belmont Park arena construction on

Aerial view of Belmont Park arena construction on March 25, 2020. Credit: Edmund J. Coppa

Construction work on the Islanders’ arena at Belmont Park was stopped on Friday as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced during his daily briefing on the coronavirus crisis that "non-essential constuction will be stopped" and efforts will focus on building four new hospitals in the New York City area, including at Aqueduct. He said the state needs to increase the number of hospital beds to 140,000 from 53,000.

Cuomo's executive order does not specify a time frame for the stoppage of non-essential construction. According to the state's website, essential construction is being defined as roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing and homeless shelters.

Construction crews at Belmont were working up until Thursday, per the live webcam on the Islanders' website. There was no activity at the site on Friday.

“If construction restarts within a reasonable period, we expect to maintain our schedule and for the arena to be open for the 2021-22 NHL season,” said Richard Browne, Managing Partner of Sterling Project Development, which is handling the arena's construction. 

“We support Governor Cuomo’s efforts to eliminate the COVID-19 virus. He has been the driving force behind the construction of Belmont Park Arena," said Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. "The progress that has been made since the groundbreaking is truly incredible and is a credit to all of the construction workers that have been there every day. Those workers are all a part of our community and we want them safe and healthy.” 

A spokesman for Empire State Development, the state agency that coordinated the project's approval process, declined to comment.

A spokesman for National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman didn't return a message seeking comment.

The arena is scheduled to open in October 2021.

An extended delay would put the 17,113-seat arena in jeopardy of not being ready for the start of the Islanders’ 2021-22 season, as had been planned. Construction began on the arena in August and was expected to take 26 months, putting the opening in line with the start of the team's NHL season that October.

There are, of course, workarounds in the event the arena is not ready.

If it's a short-term delay, the Islanders could start the season with an extended road trip. The Rangers began their 2013-14 season with a nine-game road trip to allow for the final touches on Madison Square Garden’s $1 billion renovation.

If it's an extended delay, the Islanders could look to start their season at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum, where they have been playing games since 2018. Cuomo recently announced the Islanders will play their entire home schedule there next season with the NHL's blessing.

The Islanders’ lease with NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum — negotiated in early 2018 — includes two additional option years in the event the Belmont arena is not ready, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Islanders’ arena at Belmont is the focal point of a $1.3 billion project on 43 acres of state land adjacent to the racetrack. The project also features a 250-room hotel and 350,000 square feet of retail.

It is being privately funded by New York Arena Partners, a joint venture between Islanders principal owner Scott Malkin, Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke.

The partnership was awarded the development rights by Cuomo in December 2017 and received the final series of state approvals to start construction in August.

As part of the deal with the state, the Islanders also agreed to a non-relocation agreement that is intended to keep the team at Belmont Park for at least 25 years.

According to the general project plan, the arena was expected to cost $955 million. The developers planned to finance it with a $660 million construction loan.

Construction is being handled by the Wilpon family's Sterling Project Development, which built Citi Field.

According to the lease between the developers and Empire State Development, the arena was scheduled to reach substantial completion on Oct. 5, 2021.

Newsday obtained the lease via a Freedom of Information Law request.

The project schedule says construction crews were scheduled to begin doing "internal rough-in" work next month, which refers to plumbing and electrical work done inside the walls before they are closed.

Work on the arena's exterior walls was scheduled to begin in May.

With Andrew Gross

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