Islanders to return to Nassau; Cuomo announces winning Belmont bid, residents voice concern

Islanders to return to Nassau; Cuomo announces winning Belmont bid, residents voice concern
Jon Ledecky, owner of the Islanders, greets fans after a press conference on Wednesday announcing the team will return to Long Island at a new arena at Belmont park. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

When the New York Islanders left Nassau County, they left a hole in the heart of Long Island, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

Cuomo then announced the hockey team is coming home by building a new arena at Belmont Park.

“When they left and went to Brooklyn, Long Island lost something,” Cuomo said at a press conference Wednesday. “Because it was so much part of the identity and the culture of Long Island.”

The Islanders, partnered with Sterling Development and Oak View Group, plan to create a 18,000-seat arena, a multipurpose event center, a retail center and a hotel.

The Islanders beat out the New York City Football Club, partnered with The Related Companies, to build on the Belmont land.

The proposals were in response to an Empire State Development Corp. request for proposal to build on 43-acres of state owned land currently used for parking spaces at Belmont Park.

Islanders captain John Tavares gives Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Billy Joel custom jerseys to celebrate the team returning to Nassau County.
(Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Cuomo said “today is a win win win.”

It’s a win for the fans, because Belmont is easier to get to than Barclays center, he said. It was also announced that the LIRR will have service to Belmont all year round when the arena opens.

It’s a win for the team, he said, because it will increase attendance and passion.

And, he said, it’s a win for the community because the “big economic development initiative is going to utilize this great asset that has been underutilized for years now.”

But not all residents agree.

While many Islanders fans are happy to see the team return to Nassau, other residents are not pleased with the chosen project.

During the Tuesday night Floral Park board meeting, when it was anticipated the official announcement would follow the next morning, a resident told the board she felt like the village should be taking a stronger stand against development of the site.

She said that state Sen. Elaine Phillips outright supports the arena, “so if the village is not telling her they’re opposed to it then that to me is a support for it.”

State Sen. Elaine Phillips said in a statement on Tuesday that the “foundation has now been laid to make Belmont Park a reinvigorated economic engine for our region.”

During the press conference, state Senate majority leader Jon Flanagan, thanked his Republican colleague for her efforts in supporting the arena.

“[Phillips] has been extraordinarily responsive,” Flanagan said. “She’s new, she’s smart she’s tenacious, she’s responsive, she listens to her community.”

Mayor Dominick Longobardi said the village has had conversations with Phillips about the village’s concerns.

“I can’t tell people what to do but I will tell them what’s important to us given what may or may not happen in a situation,” Longobardi said. “We are dealing with New York State and you know better than anybody the governor is going to do whatever he wants to.”

Deputy Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald said the village submitted a letter to the Empire State Development Corp. before the Dec. 12 listening session, but due to time constraints a vast majority of the questions remain unanswered.

“As elected representatives of Floral Park we need to be ensured that all of our residents concerns be heard and they deserve answers to these questions,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said the board again respectively asks that the Islanders’ management and the NHL meet with the board to address concerns.

Longobardi said he personally doesn’t want the arena at Belmont, but said the board is going to obtain all the facts and study the decision as much as it can. He said he encourages residents to do the same.

Some Elmont residents are even planning to take legal action, according to Aubrey Phillips, an Elmont resident and vice president of the Parkhurst Civic Association.

“We have been consistently voicing our concern about placing the thumb on the scale when it comes to these proposals,” Phillips said. “It seems to us that ESD has once again placed its thumb on a scale but in an egregious fashion.”

Phillips said the Empire State Development Corp. broke with their own rules. The development corporation is supposed to have a community advisory board, but no such group was put together to hear residents concerns, Phillips said.

But that’s not to say Empire State Development Corp. isn’t aware of the community’s opinion on the arena plans.

Patrick Dowd, a Bay Shore resident, joins Islanders’ fans in celebrating the team’s return to Nassau County.
(Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Before the public hearing, a couple dozen residents protested outside.

Tammie Williams, an Elmont resident and community organizer, previously told Blank Slate Media that a sports venue won’t benefit the community.

“They don’t bring sustainable jobs,” Williams said. “We do not pay our mortgages on selling hot dogs and beer.”

Aubrey Phillips said in spite of community members outlining what type of development they want to see at Belmont, the Empire State Development Corp. has ignored the community’s wishes.

Jon Ledecky, Islanders owner, said he pledged to “make every effort to continue the further success of Belmont Park and the Elmont community.”

“On a personal note, growing up in Queens I can’t be more excited that the New York Islanders will have an address here in the 11003 zip code Elmont, New York,” Ledecky said.

Ultimately, though, Wednesday’s announcement was for the fans, he said.

“You’ve been passionate supporters of the team both on and off the ice,” Ledecky said. “Today is a huge day for this franchise and you deserve it more than anyone else. Thank you for your support.”

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