This story was reported by Jim Baumbach, Robert Brodsky and Candice Ferrette. It was written by Brodsky.
A Long Island Rail Road station will be built at Belmont Park as part of a proposed $1.3 billion arena and entertainment complex aimed at bringing the New York Islanders back to Nassau County, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday.
New York Arena Partners, the development group seeking to build the project on state land at Belmont, has agreed to pay $97 million of the $105 million to build the station, state officials said. The development group is a partnership of the owners of the Islanders, New York Mets and the arena development company, Oak View Group.
The expanded LIRR service, which has been discussed for years, is considered critical to the success of the proposed 19,000-seat arena, 350,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants and a 250-room hotel. State officials said Monday that the developers had reduced the size of the retail plaza from 435,000 square feet and dropped plans for a movie theater in response to community opposition.
The new Elmont Station will be attached to the LIRR’s Main Line, just north of Belmont Park, and will allow riders from the east to take the train directly to Belmont. Currently, LIRR commuters from the east must go to Jamaica Station and backtrack to the park. Riders from the west already have direct access to the park through a part-time Belmont station.
“The Belmont project will help drive the region’s economy forward while building the Islanders a state-of-the-art facility at home on Long Island, creating thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic output along the way,” Cuomo said. “Now, with the addition of the first full-time LIRR train station in almost 50 years, we will provide millions of visitors and fans a fast and affordable way to get there.”
Plans for the new station were announced only hours before the Empire State Development Corp., the state agency responsible for attracting economic development to the public land at Belmont, released its final study on the environmental impact of the arena proposal.
To build the LIRR station, state officials said the developers will initially contribute $30 million and the state will cover the remaining $75 million. The developers will then pay back the state $67 million of that figure over time, officials said. Details of that arrangement are not yet available.
The new station is expected to be partially open for service for eastbound customers — going from Manhattan to Long Island — in 2021, at the time of the arena project opening, according to a state-commissioned analysis of the project conducted by BJH Advisors LLC. The station, partially located in Elmont and the other half in Bellerose Terrace, will be fully operational for both eastbound and westbound customers in 2023, the analysis said.
The train stop — located between the Bellerose and Queens Village stations — will be the first, new year-round LIRR station built since 1976, when the railroad opened a station on the Southampton LIU campus. The lightly used station was dismantled in 1998. The last new full-time LIRR station that still is operable is Massapequa Park, built in 1933.
Trains will stop at the new Elmont station every half-hour during peak times and every hour during off-peak times. Electric shuttle buses operated by the developer will take LIRR riders to the arena, hotel and retail village. The station, which is three-quarters of a mile from the arena, will be built entirely on existing LIRR property.
The station platform will be large enough to serve 10-12 LIRR cars. The station, which will be ADA compliant, will have an overpass with elevators connecting the north and south side platforms, the LIRR said. Other amenities include platform canopies and shelter sheds, LED lighting, electronic signage, benches, charging ports, an art installation and bicycle racks, according to a LIRR spokesman.
“We are delighted by this plan, which allows us to provide full-time, year-round service to the Elmont community and a second station at the redeveloped Belmont Park, all at no construction cost to the LIRR," railroad president Phil Eng said. "This new station will allow us to provide direct service to Belmont from Long Island as well as from New York City with trains traveling on our Main Line, which is being expanded to a third track for greater service reliability and flexibility."
The parking lot north of the Belmont racetrack, which has 2,860 spaces, will be shared by weekday LIRR commuters and arena patrons, with 150 devoted strictly for LIRR customers, according to the LIRR. There is no dedicated parking available at the Queens Village station and the parking lot at the Bellerose station is small and limited for village residents.
The existing Belmont railroad station, which operates only during the track's horse-racing season, will remain open but is not equipped to handle regular train service. The station, a spur off the LIRR’s Main Line, is only accessible from Jamaica Station.
Previously agreed-to upgrades to the existing LIRR Belmont spur, including the installation of automated track switches, are still included in the project, providing another transit option after arena events, state officials said.
Vehicular traffic along the Queens-Nassau border was among the major concerns about the proposed project, which has been going through the state approval process since December 2017. ESD began to study the feasibility of a new LIRR station on the Main Line in April.
"Today we celebrate with our loyal fans and we thank Governor Cuomo, the elected officials, and the community for their ongoing support," Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said. "Next Stop: Belmont!"
State lawmakers applauded the train station as a critical linchpin for the Belmont development.
"The addition of a full-time train station to serve Belmont Park and the surrounding community is critical to the success of the Belmont redevelopment project, and it's a huge win for my constituents who will finally have a stop on the LIRR Main Line," said State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), whose district includes Belmont Park.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), whose district includes Elmont, called the station an "indispensable part of the proposed complex at Belmont because it provides a green alternative to overcrowding area roads and offers Elmont residents access to their own, long-sought-after station."
But Floral Park residents and elected officials, who testified against the project at the ESD hearing, questioned the benefits of the LIRR station for their community. They urged state officials to study the proximity of the station to homes in Floral Park and the elementary school that borders the northeast side of Belmont Park.
“That station is good to have, but it’s not a panacea,” said Dana Weissman, 66, who has lived in Floral Park for 45 years.