Horse Racing ‘Cool Again’: NYRA CEO, Governor Praise Islanders At Belmont Deal

Hockey and horse racing are now a coupled entry in New York.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced today the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League have secured the rights to build an 18,000-seat arena as part of a sports and entertainment complex on 43 acres of property on the grounds of historic Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

“Today is a win, win, win,” said Cuomo before a packed crowd inside Belmont Park’s Turf and Field Club. “It’s a win for the community. It’s a big economic initiative. It’s going to utilize this great asset [at Belmont Park] that has been under-utilized for years. It is a big win for the fans because it’s much easier to get here than the Barclays Center. This will be more of a full-game experience. You can come early with your buddies and hang out. And it is a win for the team in that they will have their own arena. An 18,000-seat arena that is designed for the Islanders, by the Islanders. I believe the attendance will increase and the passion will increase.”

The move signals a return to Nassau County for the Islanders, who joined the National Hockey League in 1972 and played at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., through 2015. Winners of four straight Stanley Cup championships in 1980-83, the Islanders moved to their current home at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn at the start of 2015-16 season.

“It is a huge day for the [New York Racing Association],” said NYRA CEO and President Christopher K. Kay. “It’s the culmination of several years of hard work and we are thrilled to have the Islanders as our neighbors and partners as we transform Belmont Park into the finest sports and entertainment district in the country.”

Kay said the arrival of the Islanders will help NYRA in attracting fans to Belmont Park and introducing them to horse racing.

“Horse racing is going to be cool again,” Kay said. “People of all ages are going to come here and have a great time with their family and friends. They can enjoy the restaurants, the clubs, the retail outlets and have a great time at the racetrack, all in the same day. We feel this will be tremendously beneficial to us in the short term and the long term. There are a couple of generations of people who were not brought up knowing how much fun you can have at a racetrack, now when they come to Belmont Park they will see it and embrace it. It will be great for the entire industry as it will bring new people to the track and create new generations of fans.”

The arena, which is expected to host roughly 150 events a year, will be built by New York Arena Partners behind Belmont Park’s 1,266-foot grandstand, adjacent to the existing Long Island Railroad stop and bordering the Cross Island Parkway. It will be the hub of an entertainment complex that could stretch out to the track’s backyard and paddock area.

Proposed plans for the site also include the construction of 435,000-square feet of retail space and a 200-250 room hotel that will create 3,100 permanent jobs. To accommodate the new facilities, the Long Island Railroad stop at the track will be converted to a year-round station as part of a $6.6 billion project to transform the LIRR.

“The Island, as Governor Cuomo said, is coming back and that’s why the Islanders are coming back and we are investing $1 billion in this state-of-the-art redevelopment at Belmont Park,” said Islanders owner Jon Ledecky. “To the great community of Elmont, this will be more than an arena. This site will be the home of economic development.”

A 10,000-square foot area for community facilities will also be developed with input from local residents.

Belmont Park’s south parking lot, located across from the racetrack on the other side of Hempstead Turnpike, will serve as the parking area for the new complex.

Ledecky said he is looking forward to working with NYRA to make Belmont Park one of the premier sports and entertainment destinations in the country.

“We have tremendous respect for Chris Kay and the NYRA Board,” he said. “Some of the greatest leaders in New York State are on that board. They have back-channeled with us over time and have said many good things about the Islanders and their desire to have us here, so are in a very positive place with them and we look forward to working them and being in a partnership with them.”

Though Ledecky said he would like to get “shovels in the ground as soon as possible,” Empire State Development officials said construction is expected to begin in June 2018 and the arena should be completed within two years.

Kay said there will no disruptions in the 2018 NYRA schedule due to the construction.

“This will bring Belmont Park and horse racing into the 21st Century,” said Michael Dubb, leading owner at Saratoga the past four years and a member of NYRA’s Board of Directors. “Racing needs to generate new ways to bring fans out to the racetrack and having the Islanders and hotels and an entertainment complex here will jump-start turning Belmont Park into a year-round destination.”

Among those also in attendance at Belmont Park for the announcement were NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, iconic singer Billy Joel and Islanders players John Tavares and Cal Clutterbuck.

The Islanders were chosen over the New York City FC soccer team, which proposed a 26,000-seat stadium on the grounds, after both teams submitted bids for the property to Empire State Development, New York’s development agency.

Belmont Park’s 54-day spring/summer meet will begin April 27, highlighted by the 150th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 9.

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