Photo by Joe Nuzzo
Islanders Captain Anders Lee carries the puck across the blue line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 26th, 2019.

BY TIMOTHY BOLGER

The New York Islanders got a key government panel’s approval Thursday to build a new hockey arena in Elmont as the NHL team prepares to skate from the Brooklyn Barclays Center.

The Empire State Development Corporation unanimously approved the proposal to build the $1.3 billion arena along with a new hotel and retail on a state-owned 43-acre vacant plot of land adjacent to Belmont Park racetrack on the Nassau County-Queens border.

“It’s time to rock and roll and put up that great building to have a home that we can call our own to keep the Islanders on Long Island because the fans deserve this,” said Islanders co-owner John Ledecky.

The complex will include a 19,000-seat arena, 350,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and a 250-room hotel. Once the state Franchise Oversight Board approves the state’s environmental review of the proposal in the coming weeks, construction is slated to begin with the goal of opening the arena in time for the 2021 season. But it’s possible that critics of the plan — such as residents of Floral Park and Elmont concerned about increased traffic — can still sue to try to block the development.

The approval comes a month after state officials announced that a new Long Island Rail Road station will be built to accommodate fans traveling to and from the arena. And it comes two years after they originally pitched the idea to the state.

Long Island’s only professional major league sports team left their original home of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale — where they spent four decades, including their four-straight Stanley Cup-winning seasons — to move to Brooklyn in 2015, but after two years in New York City, the team’s owners started eyeing another home.

Around the same time that talk of the team returning to the recently renovated coliseum was scuttled, New York Arena Partners — a partnership between the Islanders, Mets, and arena developers Oak View Group — advanced the Elmont plan.

State Senator Leroy Comrie, who had been concerned about the project’s potential strain on Cambria Heights and Queens Village along the western edge of the racetrack campus, joined state Senators Todd Kaminsky and Anna M. Kaplan in supporting the project in a joint statement in June.

“After extensive community outreach and numerous public hearings, we identified a critical need for improved mass transit options, including a full-service LIRR station, and a comprehensive traffic mitigation strategy for local roads and the Cross Island Parkway,” they said.

Bill Parry contributed to this report.

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