This story was reported by Jim Baumbach, Robert Brodsky and Candice Ferrette. It was written by Baumbach.
A trove of Long Island residents, politicians and business leaders expressed both strong support and opposition to the Islanders’ $1.3 billion Belmont arena project Monday as the state agency moved the proposal into the final approval stages.
People ranging from Belmont-area homeowners and elected officials to lifelong Islanders fans took turns addressing a table of Empire State Development board members before they voted to adopt a new report detailing its impact on the community.
The three hours of commentary from 50 people occurred at an otherwise standard meeting of the state agency coordinating the project. Among the speakers who addressed a midtown Manhattan boardroom in four-minute windows was Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky, who said, “We are thrilled to be returning to our proper home on Long Island."
Ledecky, part of the ownership group that purchased the Islanders from Charles Wang in 2016, thanked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, ESD staff and community supporters of an arena project that is primed to end the team's decade-long search for a new home on Long Island.
Ledecky said during his speaking window that he already had met with many of the speakers who were in attendance Monday, and “we understand their concerns. The plan put forth today is better for their input."
The project features a 19,000-seat arena, 250-room hotel and planned retail space that state officials said Monday has been decreased in size from 435,000 square feet to 350,000 following input from community members concerned about traffic.
The ESD board meeting occurred just an hour after Cuomo announced a Long Island Rail Road station would be built on the railroad's Main Line as part of the project to help alleviate traffic concerns raised by the community.
Not everyone was convinced the traffic mitigation plans would help.
“The Islanders belong in the Nassau Coliseum — that’s their home — not western Nassau,” said Russell Mesnick, 43, of Floral Park. He fears few Long Islanders will take the LIRR from their homes to Belmont because he doesn’t think they will want to also take a nearly mile-long shuttle bus ride from the Belmont station, located on its north side, to the arena.
Mesnick said he also was concerned about safety and noise issues created by Islanders' games, concerts and other events that will be held at the arena, echoing a common criticism raised by Floral Park residents Monday.
"There is no benefit of this project to the village of Floral Park, whatsoever," Floral Park Mayor Dominick Longobardi said. “There are more negatives than any positive.”
Gerard Bambrick, a Floral Park village administrator, asked the ESD board to restart the environmental review process to account for the transportation changes to the project, including the LIRR station planned for the north side of Belmont.
Bernadette Smith, 43, a lifelong resident of Floral Park, added: “ I am resigned to the idea that this project is steamrolling ahead.”
Smith echoed the concerns of Floral Park residents who said the village’s infrastructure couldn’t handle the project, noting the strain it will place on its police force and voluntary firehouse. She’s also concerned the retail component will hurt local shops, restaurants and bakeries.
Several Elmont residents, who live in the community more to the south of the proposed arena, said they welcome the project. They noted the renovations the developers will finance for local parks and the anticipated influx of jobs for young adults and seniors.
“Elmont is plagued with little to no resources for our families and we need this project to be that beacon of hope that cements Elmont’s place in the lexicon of thriving communities all across this great nation. Be bold and build,” said Simmonie Gordon, 41, a mother of three in Elmont.
Most local politicians expressed support for the Islanders’ plans.
Nassau Executive Laura Curran said the project will “help build a stronger Nassau County economy.” State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) added that she is “eager to see the project proceed,” and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) predicted the development “will be a game-changer for Elmont and the greater Long Island region.”
ESD, the state agency targeted with growing economic development, contends the arena project is expected to spur the region’s economy, creating about 10,000 construction jobs, 2,450 direct and indirect jobs connected to the hotel, office, community space and retail village, and 750 direct and indirect arena-related jobs. That’s according to an economic analysis by BJH Advisors commissioned by ESD.
The report projects the development will generate nearly $50 million in new public revenue annually, about $725 million in annual economic activity, and direct and indirect annual employee earnings of roughly $133 million.
By 2024, the project is expected to generate $44 million in new annual tax revenue to Nassau County, New York State, the Town of Hempstead and the MTA, according to the economic analysis.
“I do not see this project — as it stands — being able to provide what’s best for those living there,” said Smith, the longtime Floral Park resident. “I beg of you to prove me wrong.”
ESD officials said there will be a 15-day public comment period before its board of directors votes on the project. The project also need approvals from the Franchise Oversight Board and Public Authorities Control Board before groundbreaking can occur. ESD said it expects to receive approvals this month.
BY THE NUMBERS
A proposed Belmont-area arena and entertainment project in Nassau County will:
- Create about 10,000 construction jobs and 3,200 permanent jobs
- Generate almost $50 million in public revenue annually
- Generate annual employee earnings of about $133 million
One-time economic benefits related to the construction of the new arena, hotel, retail village and LIRR Elmont Station include:
- $2 billion in economic output from construction
- 6,900 construction jobs paying an average annual salary of $78,000, with 3,100 spillover construction jobs
- $707 million in earnings from construction employment
Source: BJH Advisors LLC