National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman expects the Islanders to break ground on their new arena at Belmont Park on schedule in early 2019.
“Based on everything I know, based on everything I’ve been told, we expect that arena to be coming out of the ground sometime in the next nine months to a year,” Bettman said Friday.
The arena, part of a $1-billion privately financed sports and entertainment project, began the environmental review process last month.
Officials from Empire State Development, the state’s primary business development agency, which awarded the development rights in December to the Islanders’ group, have said the environmental review stage is expected to last 12 to 16 months.
Bettman, speaking to a group representing the Associated Press Sports Editors at NHL headquarters in Manhattan, dismissed any concern that the arena might be delayed by obstacles involving the Long Island Rail Road station there or from community opposition.
“There’s always going to be speculation when you’re building a major project like that,” Bettman said. “But as far as I know, everything is on track.”
The Islanders have partnered with owners of the Mets, Knicks and Rangers on the development of their new arena, and it has the backing of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The Islanders’ group is scheduled to take questions from the public for the first time at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Elmont library.
Bettman added that the league was not aware of the proposed 17,500-seat sports arena in Ronkonkoma before the announcement by Suffolk County two weeks ago. That proposal, a joint venture between real estate developer Jones Lang LaSalle and investment banker Ray Bartoszek, is designed to lure a professional hockey team to Suffolk.
Bettman laughed when asked about an arena being proposed without an anchor tenant.
“Happens all the time, unfortunately for some places,” he said, citing arenas in Kansas City and Quebec City as examples. Both of those arenas were built with the intent of luring an NHL franchise, and neither has been successful.
After the arena announcement by Suffolk two weeks ago, the NHL dismissed any notion of adding a fourth team to the area and Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said the proposal is “not relevant to us.”
The project’s investors are no strangers to the NHL. Bartoszek, a minority owner of the Yankees, tried to purchase the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes in 2013 and also attempted to build an arena outside Seattle in 2015 to lure an NHL expansion team there. Neither plan worked out.
When Bettman was asked about Bartoszek as a potential NHL franchise owner, the commissioner said, “I can’t predict the future. The fact of the matter is he’s flirted with a couple of opportunities but none of them have become substantive to this point.”