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NYRA planning to renovate Belmont Park while Islanders’ new arena is built

Agency that operates racetracks is spending $6.5 million to study the feasibility of renovations, but exact details of upgrades remain a question.

The 43 acres of state-owned land at Belmont

The 43 acres of state-owned land at Belmont Park will be developed into an arena for the Islanders. Photo Credit: Office of the Governor / Kevin P. Coughlin

The New York Racing Association is drawing up plans to renovate Belmont Park’s horse racing facilities in anticipation of its proposed new neighbor, the Islanders’ arena.

NYRA, which operates 445-acre Belmont Park, says it has assembled a team of sports development consultants following Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s December announcement that the Islanders won the development rights to 43 acres of state-owned land at Belmont.

NYRA wants to modernize the racetrack operations to take advantage of the anticipated influx of non-racing fans who will come to Belmont as a result of the planned sports and entertainment destination by the Islanders and their development partners.

Any NYRA renovation would be separate from the Islanders’ project, even though they are taking place on the same property. NYRA already operates the land it is looking to renovate, while the Islanders’ group won the development rights to a parcel of the property through Empire State Development, the state’s business aid agency.

In addition to an 18,000-seat arena, the Islanders’ plans also include a hotel, retail stores, restaurants, a movie theater and outdoor space. Developers say the project, located mostly in the parking area south of the racetrack, is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

NYRA will spend $6.5 million this year on architects, engineers, master planners and economic experts to study the feasibility of renovations, CEO Christopher Kay said at a recent meeting of the state’s Franchise Oversight Board, which oversees NYRA.

What exactly NYRA intends specifically with its renovation remains in question. NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said in a statement “the size and scope of proposed renovations to our building and property” have not yet been determined. McKenna declined to comment on other to-be-determined renovation issues such as financing.

“It is our hope to make significant renovations and improvements to the clubhouse portion of our building while making enhancements and improvements to the paddock area and racetracks,” McKenna said.

The clubhouse is a portion of the racetrack’s structure with dining options and traditional box seats. The paddock is the area located in the racetrack’s “backyard,” south of the structure, where the horses are saddled before every race and jockeys, owners and fans congregate.

Kay declined an interview request with Newsday.

NYRA wants to work with the Islanders to make the projects flow.McKenna said NYRA has had “preliminary discussions with the Islanders on how best to work together to develop Belmont Park into one of the finest sports and entertainment districts in the country.”

A spokesman for the Islanders declined to comment.

Kevin Law, president of Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group, said Belmont’s racetrack “is definitely in need of a renovation” and noted that the arrival of the Islanders development there “presents an opportune time to upgrade Belmont.”

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