Work has resumed on the Islanders new arena at Belmont Park after a two-month construction halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main question, of course, is whether this delay will impact the building opening by the Islanders’ target date of October, 2021. Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello remains extremely confident the timeline will not be affected.
“I can confirm that,” Lamoriello said on a teleconference on Wednesday that construction had restarted. “It’s a great sight that it is happening. The most comfortable feeling is that we were ahead of schedule when this all took place. I do not believe there will be any hiccups as far as the delay of when it’s proposed to be open. And that’s great news.”
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gave the green light to Phase 1 re-opening on Long Island for Wednesday. That includes construction, limited retail sales, manufacturing, wholesale trade and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.
“As Gov. Cuomo said this week, New York has clearly transitioned to reopening, and supporting major projects that leave a lasting impact will be critical to building our economy back,” Empire State Development acting commissioner and CEO-designate Eric Gertler said in a statement on Wednesday. “As the region enters Phase One, workers were back on site today preparing to resume construction in a safe environment that protects their health.”
The work on the Belmont Park arena was deemed non-essential when it was halted on March 27.
Lamoriello’s optimism on the construction schedule echoes that of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
“The building is proceeding and, I’m told, it will be on time or close to on time,” Bettman said on a teleconference with the media on Tuesday. “So, that shouldn’t be an issue.”
But completing the arena on time would likely count on avoiding another work stoppage. Federal health officials have warned of a potential second wave of the coronavirus outbreak later this year.
The building will seat 17,113 for hockey and is the focal point of a $1.3 billion project that also includes a 250-room hotel and 350,000 square feet of retail.
Also in question, of course, is when fans will be allowed back in arenas. The NHL has unveiled its return-to-play model for the 2019-20 season but the games will be played in hub cities without fans in the stands.
Or, when fans are allowed back, will the stands be full or attendance be limited?
“Certainly, we know there will not be fans in the stands,” Lamoriello said. “There are certain things that still are step by step. But everything is pointing in the right direction.”
Finally, another question is whether the 2021-22 season will start that October? If play resumes this year, it likely won’t be until August and Bettman has said the NHL could start the next season in January, 2021 but has insisted it will be a full, 82-game schedule.
That would almost certainly delay the start of 2021-22.
“This is an unprecedented time,” Lamoriello said. “I foresee us getting back to the normal playing time that we’ve had traditionally.”