Photo by Naeisha Rose
Islander fans want a sports arena at Belmont Park.
By Naeisha Rose

There was a great divide between the 300 residents of Queens and Nassau counties who attended a meeting Monday night at Elmont Memorial Library on what should be done to develop about 36 acres of available space at Belmont Park.

Empire State Development, the state’s economic financing wing, is sending out a proposal for development and set up the parameters for what vendors can build there with “loans, grants, tax credits, real estate development, and marketing,” according to the state government’s website.

State Sens. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Todd Kaminsky (D-Rockville Center) and Elaine Phillips (R- Mineola), as well as Assembly members Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) and Michaelle Solages (D-Valley Stream), listened to residents’ various requests about what ESD should include in its plans for the site at 2150 Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont.

Many residents assume Empire might designate the area for two sports teams after the New York Islanders NHL team’s unpopular move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn from Nassau Coliseum and the New York Cosmos’ failed 2012 bid for space .

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns the Barclays’s building, projected as far back as January that the hockey team would not add to the center’s revenue and many fans had issues with the viewing area. This resulted in fewer than 13,000 people attending games in an arena with 18,000 seats, according to Bloomberg.com.

Residents from Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Elmont and the neighboring Floral Park were not pleased by the idea, insisting a sports arena would create low-paying jobs in security, ushering and groundskeeping. Denizens from further towns in Nassau County or other boroughs were more worried about losing the Islanders, however.

Some of the 25 Islander fans who were present came from Uniondale, Garden City and Manhattan, according to the speakers’ list provided by Kaminsky’s office.

“We, as a community, are saying to you that you are making a gross error if, in fact, that [request for proposal] is going to be moving forward and is indeed tailored for [a sports arena for] the Islanders,” Elmont resident Aubrey Phillips said.

“You must choose between people that have flooded our auditorium in favor ofone hour of fun [and] juxtapose that with people that live here after that hour is finished. When that hour is finished, we the residents of Elmont and the greater community, have to clean it up and live with it,” Phillips said.

Floral Park resident Matthew Sexton suggested that Nassau County should get back to being a center of innovation.

It was a place for aerospace innovation as far back as the 1920s, according to the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency.

“The RFP for the New York Cosmos was pulled in 2012 because it went bankrupt,” Sexton said. “Economists all agree that arenas are a net economic loss for our area.”

The assertion drew boos from Islander fans in attendance.

“What I propose is an incubator,” Sexton said. “Empire Development Corp. has no problem building this in Rochester and Buffalo, bringing in development for energy and technology. We are going to be the largest African-American community in the country. Do you know that African-Americans will go on to college disproportionately in technology fields?”

New York City has 2.2 million black people, according to a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report. That is the most in any city across the country. Elmont has a population that is 45 percent black, according to a 2016 city data report.

Sexton cited the example of a tech incubator in Texas that will bring in a lot of money for that state.

“I don’t want us to think big, I want us to think smart,” Sexton said.

The nearly 60 speakers did agree there should be daily LIRR service to Belmont Park. The current rail is only operational for horse races from April to July.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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