By Naeisha Rose
The response to the Belmont Park Redevelopment Project in Elmont has varied across Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island, with some local leaders concerned about property values and congestion while others look ahead to the benefits for local businesses.
The project is facilitated by Empire State Development (ESD) — the same quasi-governmental agency tasked with shepherding the failed Amazon plan — and calls for “Bringing the New York Islanders back home to Long Island,” according to the project website. The $1 billion project at the site of Belmont Park, just over the Queens border, will include a new 19,000-seat arena for the Islanders, a 435,000-square foot mall and a new hotel.
Queens could reap the benefits, with business opportunities potentially fueling the borough’s booming nightlife industry, said Queens Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Grech.
“I want to make sure that people that come to the stadium and that come to the facility know that just right over in Queens there is a number of diverse restaurants,” Grech said. “There are opportunities to come and visit and see Queens at its finest.”
In 2015, the Islanders moved to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center because their longtime home at Nassau Coliseum had fallen into disrepair. But the new venue removed the team from its hardcore fanbase, alienating some supporters and likely causing the team to miss out on revenue. The Islanders have split time between the two arenas for home games this season.
Grech said the Queens Chamber will help connect local restaurants and attractions with people visiting the Elmont complex. He said he also wants to help provide grants and loans to local businesses from the city's Small Business Services department.
"At the Queens Chamber, 90 percent of our members have 10 or fewer employees," he said. "While we are a large organization, we cater to small businesses all the time and we want to make sure that we advise them on rules and regulations for opportunities for grants and loans, for them to be prepared and have the capacity when an opportunity like this comes up."
Grech said he wants to help businesses remodel, get access to more capital to expand and to help with language skills to appeal to an international clientele who might visit the Belmont facility and travel a few hundred feet into Queens.
Over the Border
In Elmont, businesses are mostly in the dark about the specifics of the 43-acre project, said Elmont Chamber of Commerce President Paul Sapienza. The development will likely occur in place of two parking lots at Belmont Park, home of the Belmont Stakes.
"We haven't done anything concrete to prepare the businesses," Sapienza said. "We have until the end of April to can the idea."
Sapienza said he was told the Islanders would use local services for printing, and once the games begin, possibly use local businesses for marketing and advertising. He said he does not know what else to expect from the project, however.
"We don't even know which hotel is moving there," Sapienza said.
While Sapienza is hopeful that the Islanders will use local services, he is cautious about the project’s impact on the local fire and police departments.
"If the groundbreaking does start in May, we hope by then to know the particulars," said Sapienza. "We are more concerned with how first responders will respond to the scope of the project."
In the 1980s, a fire broke out at the Belmont Park thoroughbred racing facility, which required more than 200 firefighters to extinguish, he said.
"Currently, we don't have the resources ready to respond to an emergency for a project of that magnitude," said Sapienza. "I want to make sure that our town is equipped with the manpower, equipment and funds."
In a Draft Environmental Impact Study, ESD said, "the Proposed Project, including potential effects on emergency response times, would be taken into consideration during routine evaluations of service adjustments to continue to provide adequate police coverage" by the Nassau County Police Department.
"I'm a little concerned about traffic … but I feel that it is worth it to have [the facility] here," said Sapienza. "Restaurants are hoping to benefit from this.”
Sapienza also said the area needs to expand parking permits from one block to three blocks around Belmont Park.
According to ESD, there will be 1,900 parking spots beneath the proposed retail complex and hotel.
This article is part one in a two-part series about the Belmont Park Redevelopment Plan.