It was the start of a homecoming for Islanders fans who have had to skate all the way to Barclays Center to watch their team since 2015.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a group of die-hard Islanders fans celebrated the groundbreaking of the new 19,000-seat hockey stadium right next door to the Belmont Racetrack as well as its very own Long Island Rail Road station.
Cuomo expects the 350,000 total square feet of development to be an economic stimulant primed to pump vibrancy into the locality on the Nassau-Queens border.
To start, 10,000 construction jobs will be created, which will give way to retail and hospitality opportunities.
“I am an old Queens boy and for many years I would go up and down the Cross Island Parkway. You look at this site and you would say, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something with that site?’ Four hundred and forty acres, all sorts of potential just sitting there and it sat widely unused for a long, long time,” Cuomo said. “Well, today is a different day, my friends. This is going to be a transformative project that I think is going to energize all of Long Island. It does several things all at once. First, bringing the Long Island Rail Road here to Elmont, a Long Island Rail Road that goes both ways. You can commute into the city, people can take the Long Island Rail Road to the game.”
In December 2017, when Cuomo first announced the Islanders would return to their namesake, Long Island, the governor said he would negotiate a deal with National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman to allow the Islanders to play at least 21 games at the Nassau Colliseum, where they had played since 1972.
Cuomo seems to have not forgotten this facet of the plan.
“I spoke to the commissioner as part of this transaction and the commissioner promised me that they would play even more games at the Nassau Coliseum,” Cuomo said. “I know the commissioner is a man of his word, and I know that there are many state police on site today just in case the commissioner is not a man of his word, but I know he is.”
Bettman was next at the podium.
The NHL commissioner said the completion of the project would be historic for the team and ensure them a home on Long Island where they deliver a sense of identity to fans.
“This is the day that assures everybody who that has anything to do with the Islanders … this is the future of this franchise right here on Long Island,” Bettman said.
Cuomo’s office estimates that the amenities in Belmont will generate about $2.7 billion once the 43 acres have been developed to their full potential.
“The construction of the new arena at Belmont Park will redevelop the home of The Islanders, support more games and events, and increase visitors to the region,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “This significant project will establish Belmont Park as a sports destination and will create thousands of jobs and boost economic activity on Long Island.”
The arena is scheduled for completion in time for the 2021-2022 hockey season.
In recent years, the MTA under Cuomo’s administration has made a blitz of improvements to LIRR infrastructure — the second track, the third track and 59 renovated stations — and the new Elmont Station at Belmont Park will be one of them.
Belmont Park, however, has an existing LIRR stop that only operates seasonally during sports events and the race track. The new station will have more regular service.