Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said he expects construction on the team’s arena at Belmont Park to begin in May while adding that he is taking the community’s concerns “very seriously.”
“I think when you’re building a project of that scale, you want to make sure all the different groups have input, whether it’s business groups, community groups, residents,” Ledecky told Newsday on Thursday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow following a news conference to announce the organization will partner with LGBT Network for an anti-bullying initiative in more than 200 Long Island and New York City schools.
“I have taken tours of every single town in and around the arena,” he said. “We don’t publicize that. But I’ve worked with the mayors and I’ve been meeting with my colleagues and them. I feel very positive about the support that we’re receiving in the community.
“I think we take the feedback from the community very seriously.”
Once all the approvals are granted, Ledecky said he expects shovels to be in the ground in May 2019 and the arena to open on schedule in October 2021.
Empire State Development officials have said an environmental impact report is due out before the end of the year and that residents will have a chance to comment on it. In a statement released Thursday night, Empire State Development said they've "fostered robust community engagement at every step of the Belmont Park redevelopment process, and the project has been refined and improved as a result. Through community meetings, and careful review and response to all public comments, we have and will continue to listen to those who will be most affected by this project. The New York Islanders and all of our development partners share our interest in hearing from the community as we engage a variety of stakeholders throughout this processs."
Last week approximately 100 Floral Park residents attended a village meeting in which Mayor Dominick Longobardi said the project is “way too big” and warned that it could negatively impact their way of life.
But Longobardi, contacted after Ledecky made his comments Thursday, confirmed he has met with Ledecky and gave him a tour of the village as they exchanged phone numbers.
He called Ledecky “a phenomenal guy” for his efforts to get to know the area and involve the Islanders in activities such as local sports organizations.
“The village is not against the Islanders in any way,” Longobardi told Newsday. “We are working closely with them.”
Longobardi said his concern about the project is its size and how the traffic from the arena, hotel, retail and restaurants will impact residents.
“This is not about the Islanders for us,” he said. “We’re thankful to how Jon Ledecky and the Islanders have already become a part of our community.”
However, civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who represents an umbrella group of neighboring civic organizations and advocates that oppose the sports and entertainment development at Belmont, told Newsday on Thursday that Ledecky has not reached out to them.
“He says he’s met with the mayors and toured the towns, but what about the residents who have serious and substantial concerns about how this is going to impact them?” Siegel said, referring to the group called the Belmont Park Community Coalition.
Siegel said their group, which met with Empire State Development over the summer, is planning a rally in opposition to the Islanders’ arena on Sunday afternoon at Belmont.
“The Belmont Park Community Coalition has been very visible and vocal for many months now,” Siegel said. “It would be good if the record matches the rhetoric. There’s still time.”
Ledecky said that often the negative reaction to the arena plans are the only ones reported.
“I don’t think that it makes news when people are saying, ‘Hey, we really think this is great,’ and I think that’s what’s happening here,” Ledecky said. “We’re getting overwhelming support for the initiative and for what it means to the community to bring the Belmont Park arena to reality.”
This summer, Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello hinted in a radio interview that the arena could be ready sooner than expected.
But Ledecky put the brakes on that.
“If you think about the way the NHL works, the way the schedule works, I think it’s good to point to October 2021,” Ledecky said. “I don’t see how we can be playing before then.”
The Islanders are splitting their home games this season between Barclays Center in Brooklyn and NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.